The UK has obtained enough Pfizer Covid vaccines to immunise all children aged 12 and above, Matt Hancock has told MPs.
The health secretary said experts were considering “very carefully” whether the UK’s vaccination programme will be widened to include children, with a decision expected within two months.
During an address at the Commons, Mr Hancock told MPs the final call would likely be made by the end of July – by which time the government is expected to have invited all those aged 18 and over to receive a jab.
Highlighting that research showed the vaccines were safe, Mr Hancock said: “I've been closely following the results from the clinical studies from Pfizer that show that the vaccine is safe and effective among children between the ages of 12 and 18.”
He continued: “We have procured enough Pfizer to be able to use the Pfizer jab and offer it to children should that be clinically approved here, but given that we are at the stage of opening to people aged 37, there is some time to go until we reach 18-year-olds.”
From Wednesday, the NHS will start offering jabs to those aged 36 and over – with 37-year-olds to be invited from Tuesday.
Mr Hancock said: “We are on track to meet the target to offering all those 18 and above by the end of July, so we have a couple of months before we need to make have to operationalise that decision. We want to be very, very careful and sensitive about whether and how to offer the vaccine to children.”
Last week Pfizer made its application to the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for permission to use the jab in 12 to 15-year-olds.
The pharmaceutical giant would also need a green light from the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers on such protocol.
UK Covid rates published on Monday show Britain’s worst hotspots are being driven by a sharp rise in cases among younger age groups – especially since the Indian variant began spreading across pockets of England and Scotland.
In Bolton, case rates among 10 to 19-year-olds are more than eight times those for people 60 and over, while in Bedford they are 13 times as high and four times as high in Blackburn with Darwen
Despite this, Mr Hancock today rejected calls for the vaccine to be given to those in younger age groups where the highly contagious Indian variant is causing concern.
“Our vaccination strategy for all parts of the UK, including the areas of surge vaccination, will stick by the clinical advice set out by the JCVI,” he said. “This clinically approved approach is the best way to save the most lives rather than jumping ahead with first doses for younger people.”
He also pointed out that the “majority” of those being hospitalised with the new variant in northern England were people who had “not been vaccinated and, of them, most of them could have been”.
In early May, Canada became the world’s first country to authorise the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15. The country’s health ministry said it made the decision based on “promising” data from phase three clinical trials on children that age.
The jab was also authorised for children aged 12 and over in the US last week, which the JCVI pledged to watch closely.