The UK government is recommending children ages 16 and 17 receive the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine “as soon as possible,” according to a statement from Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Wednesday.
The recommendation comes after the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) updated their guidance to advise all 16- and 17-year olds to receive their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
The updated guidance is a change from the UK’s previous plan to only offer Covid-19 vaccines to children if they had underlying health conditions.
“In the last few weeks, there have been large changes in the way COVID-19 has been spreading in the UK, particularly in younger age groups. The adult vaccine programme has progressed very successfully and more safety data has become available, so it was important to review the advice for the vaccination of children and young people,” the JCVI said in a statement.
The UK government plans to prioritize the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for young people, while delaying a recommendation for a second dose, according to the JCVI statement.
“The aim is for the second dose to be given later and this will extend protection for a longer period, for example when those young people start work or go to university, or if we begin to get another wave of cases in winter. It is important to keep young people well and in school in the Autumn term and to minimise disruption to education as far as possible. For now we recommend prioritising the first dose in younger age groups,” JCVI said, adding that it is likely a second dose will eventually be offered from 12 weeks after the first dose.
“In the UK where there is good uptake of the vaccine amongst adults, we can take a more precautionary approach to vaccine rollout in younger people, who are at lower risk of serious harm from COVID-19,” the JCVI continued, also noting that research shows young people respond better to the vaccine than older people and are expected to have around 80% protection against hospitalization following one dose.
“COVID-19 vaccines have saved more than 60,000 lives and prevented 22 million infections in England alone. They are building a wall of defence against the virus and are the best way to protect people from serious illness. I encourage everyone who is eligible to come forward for both their jabs as quickly as possible,” Javid said.
“The JCVI have not recommended vaccinating under-16s without underlying health conditions but will keep its position under review based on the latest data,” the health secretary added.
“Those aged 12 to 15 with severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s Syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities, as well as people in this age group who are household contacts of individuals who are immunosuppressed, are already eligible for vaccination. JCVI will continue to review data and provide updates on at risk groups aged 12-15 and whether any additional groups will be added.”