Some government officials are braced for an imminent decision – but members of the JCVI have suggested talks are still only at a very early stage
The idea of vaccinating UK children against Covid is being looked at “very carefully”, a Tory minister has declared.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are both studying the issue.
He said experts would have to make sure the vaccine is “incredibly safe” before rolling it out to under-18s – but it could be done to protect the wider community.
It comes after EU, US and Canadian regulators approved the Pfizer jab for use against teenagers aged 12 to 15.
A government source told the Mirror officials are braced for a decision in the near future from the JCVI.
A Whitehall source added: “We’ve followed their advice throughout, and I don’t think that would change.”
But members of the independent JCVI have suggested they are still only in early talks – and may not give one final recommendation to the government.
The UK vaccine rollout is still running at full tilt to the target to offer first doses to all adults by July 31.
The autumn is then likely to be taken up with giving second doses and preparing booster shots for the vulnerable.
It’s understood the government believes it will have offered second doses to all over-50s and vulnerable adults by June 21 – the date for step four of the roadmap.
This is little surprise because they were already offered first doses by March 31, and the 12-week gap between doses has been shortened.
JCVI member Dr Maggie Wearmouth told LBC it had “only recently” received a written request from Health Secretary Matt Hancock to look at the issue.
She said: “We have had one or two conversations but we have not formulated a formal view.”
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the JCVI, said on Saturday it is likely to set out a “range of options” on vaccinating children, not one recommended choice.
That would force Boris Johnson to make the thorny decision on whether to extend the rollout himself.
Prof Harnden said experts need to weigh up ethical issues when considering options such as immunising children on the basis of risk, for educational purposes or to protect others in the population.
Prof Harnden said vaccines do help with Covid-19 transmission but “only to a certain extent”, and therefore “I don’t think we will be able to vaccinate children to prevent huge amounts of transmission within the community”.
Mr Zahawi said today: “Our own regulator has not yet approved giving vaccines to children.
“You have to make sure the vaccines are incredibly safe before you give them to children.”
Mr Zahawi explained that while some children can get infected or develop long Covid, “on the whole you are vaccinating to protect their families and their communities and the country”.
He added: “So the vaccines… have to be incredibly safe before you administer them to children.”
He said the “infrastructure” is in place to jab children in the UK if required, but “clinicians have to make that final decision”.