Healthy teenagers aged 16 and 17 will be offered the Pfizer vaccine within weeks, after a rethink by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
Less than three weeks ago, the committee ruled that the benefits did not outweigh the risks for youngsters, ruling out the “routine use of universal vaccination of children”.
But on Wednesday, the JCVI said it had gathered more data about the safety of the vaccines and had also weighed up the impact of the pandemic on education and mental health.
The team also said it had seen modelling that showed there may be positive benefits to the wider population from teenagers being vaccinated, particularly if a new winter wave emerges.
The JCVI said that teenagers would be able to overrule their parents and have the jab if they wished.
The third wave has largely been driven by youngsters, and there are concerns that Britain will never achieve herd immunity unless a significant proportion of children are vaccinated.
Vaccinating children, as well as protecting them, will also lower their ability to transmit the disease if they do become infected.
Although there have been fears that the jab can cause the rare heart condition myocarditis in youngsters, experts said the chance was just one in 100,000.
Prof Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, and a government advisor, said: “Vaccination of teenagers may have a major effect on the return of Covid next winter, assuming that the rates will drop this summer.
“Full vaccination takes time, so the sooner we start the sooner this age group will be protected.”
Under the new guidance, 16- and 17-year-olds will be offered a single dose of the Pfizer jab. Vaccination experts are yet to set out the timeline for when youngsters should get their second dose, and will make further recommendations in the coming weeks.
Currently children aged 12 and over can be vaccinated if they have underlying health conditions, or live with a vulnerable adult.
The JCVI said it was not ruling out extending the vaccination programme to more children, and hinted that it may soon broaden the list of health conditions which would allow those under 16 and over 12 to be jabbed.