On the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, an independent body responsible for advising Britain’s health departments, Britain is expanding its vaccination campaign to include 16- and 17-year-olds with no underlying health conditions.
Jonathan Van-Tam, Britain’s deputy chief medical officer, said at a news conference in London on Wednesday that the campaign would begin in a “very short number of weeks,” but he did not specify a date. He stated that officials would “move as quickly as is practically possible.”
According to previous joint committee advice, the vaccine was made available to children aged 12 to 17 with underlying health conditions and an increased risk of severe infection, as well as those living with an immunocompromised person.
According to National Health Service data, 244,223 people under the age of 18 had received their first dose in England as of Aug. 4.
The joint committee advised against routine vaccination of children without underlying conditions in July, citing evidence that vaccination would provide “minimal health benefits” for young people who rarely experienced severe virus symptoms. The committee also stated that it was awaiting additional safety data following extremely rare reports of heart muscle inflammation associated with the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in younger adults.
According to Wei Shen Lim, a joint committee member, the new guidance balanced the “potential benefits and harms” to young people, including the frequency and severity of adverse reactions, as well as the impact of so-called long Covid, which affected only a “small proportion” of young people and children.
Clinical trials also showed that the vaccine was as safe in teenagers as it was in adults, according to June Raine, chief executive of the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
Following a clinical trial in the United States that included approximately 1,000 children aged 12 to 15, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one currently approved in the United Kingdom for children 12 and older. It discovered that the side effects in that group were brief and mild to moderate.
The decision to include teenagers builds on previous steps taken by the United States, which launched its first campaign to immunise children aged 12 to 15 in May. In most states, young people aged 16 and up became eligible for vaccination in April.
The joint committee has not yet recommended vaccinating children under the age of 16, but it is reviewing the most recent data.
“There is time to go slowly and carefully, and there is time to go at the speed of science,” Professor Van-Tam explained.