United Kingdom

Ministers 'will be told not to roll out Covid jabs for children until scientists get more data'

The Government should not roll-out its mass Covid vaccine programme to children until scientists get 'more data on the risks', top scientists will reportedly warn.

Ministers will be reportedly be advised against launching a vaccine drive for the under-18s in the immediate future.

Experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are said to have raised 'serious ethical concerns' about vaccinating children - because of the low risk of youngsters becoming seriously ill through Covid.

The group - the Government's advisory body on vaccines - are urging ministers to study data from other countries where jabs are already being rolled-out to children.

A statement voicing the JCVI's concerns is set to be released in the coming, according to the Telegraph. 

It comes amid a kick-back from parents, with 50,000 people recently signing a petition against Covid vaccinations for youngsters.

Unions meanwhile have offered tentative support for an under-18 jab roll-out, if it helps tackle disruption to schooling.

Today, a Whitehall source told the Telegraph: 'Nobody is going to green light the mass vaccination of children at this stage.

The Government should not roll-out its mass Covid vaccine programme for children until scientists get 'more data on the risks', top scientists will reportedly warn

Experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are said to have raised 'serious ethical concerns' about vaccinating children - because of the low risk of youngsters becoming serious illness through Covid. It comes amid a kick-back from parents, with 50,000 people recently signing a petition against Covid vaccinations for youngsters. Pictured left: Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Pictured right: Campaigner Molly Kingsley from UsforThem

'Scientists want to see more data from the US and elsewhere before taking a firm stand either way.

'The JCVI will want to weigh up the benefits against the risks before vaccinating children, and it wants more data.'

It comes after Professor Chris Whitty earlier this week side-stepped questions over a possible vaccination roll-out for under 18s.

England's Chief Medical Officer (CMO) told a Downing Street news conference that the 'wider question' was about whether such a programme would help limit Covid's disruption to schooling.

Vaccine shortage threatens further Freedom Day delay

A shortage of vaccines could threaten a further Freedom Day delay as supplies of Pfizer and Moderna jabs are 'tight' amid an increased demand - as young people are taking alternatives to AstraZeneca. 

The Covid vaccine rollout has now slowed to under half its peak speed despite Boris Johnson stressing the urgent need to jab as many people as possible to free Britain from lockdown.

In light of the rapidly spreading Indian variant, the Government has brought forward its target for vaccinating all adults until July 19 — the same day the final unlocking has been pushed back until. Ministers had previously pledged to offer jabs to all over-18s by July 31. 

And the Prime Minister this week delayed Freedom Day from June 21 to July 19 to give the NHS a 'few more crucial weeks' to protect Britons from the Indian, or Delta, variant. 

But Britain administered just 368,555 vaccine doses on Monday – well under half the 844,285 it managed on a single day in March. The pace has slowed because of the decision by Government advisers to recommend alternatives to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab for the under-40s and limited supply of the two alternatives – Pfizer and Moderna.

Ministers have conceded that the supply of the Pfizer jab is particularly 'tight' while the Moderna vaccine – which has only just become available – is thought to be similarly limited.  

NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens has said that the health service would 'finish the job' of the vaccination programme to the 'greatest extent possible' over the next four weeks, and he expects all remaining adults to be offered their first vaccine by the end of the week.

But he told the NHS Confederation's annual conference 'supply continues to be constrained'.

Government advisers recommended an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab for under-40s after it was linked to fatal blood clots. But this has hugely increased demand for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Downing Street's vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi last week admitted stocks of Pfizer — the main jab being administered to young people — would be 'tight' this month. 

He said officials were still considering whether to vaccinate children but the 'big priority' was reaching over-18s in the summer.  

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference earlier this week, he said: 'The key thing for children is safety. 

'We know that the risks in terms of of physical disease to children, other than for some children with significant pre-existing problems of physical health, are much, much lower than for adults.

'So you wouldn't want to vaccinate unless the vaccine was very safe. Vaccines are now being licensed in some countries and we're accruing safety data on the safety of these vaccines in children.'

Scientists on the JCVI will reportedly recommend the Government looks to the US and Israel where children are already being vaccinated.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that all children over 12 should get a Covid jab in May.

Meanwhile, Israel has recently started vaccinating children aged 12 to 15.  France has also opened up vaccinations for children aged 12 and over.

If the UK Government does push on for a vaccine roll-out for children, it will most likely use the Pfizer vaccine.

The jab has already been deemed safe for use in those aged 12-15 by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

A senior government source told the Telegraph: 'The Pfizer vaccine has been licensed for 12 to 15-year-olds by the MHRA, and a number of countries will be vaccinating children in those age groups. 

'Ministers have not received advice, and no decisions have been taken.' 

Today, speaking about the issue, Doctor Calum Semple, from the Professor of Child Health and Outbreak Medicine at the University of Liverpool, told BBC Radio Four's Today Programme the issue was 'complex'.

He said: 'The first thing is the risk of severe disease (hospitalisation, admission to the ICU or death) from Covid in children is one-in-a-million and I'm not plucking that figure from thin air, that's a quantifiable risk.

'In wave one and in wave two there were 12 deaths in children in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland put together.

'That is rare, because there's round about 13 to 14million children in the UK. So we are mostly talking about vaccinating children here mainly to protect public health and transmission.

'We are now coming into really interesting ethical and moral debate about vaccinating children for the benefit of others.' 

He added: 'I'm veering on the not vaccinating children, only because of the ethical issues and the need to get the vaccine into the older people.' 

The issue of vaccinating children is a contentious, because studies show there is an extremely low risk of children becoming seriously ill through Covid.

The main benefit, it is thought, is to limit the spread of the virus in schools. 

A study earlier this year revealed that those who do become infected three weeks after receiving one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine were between 38 per and 49 per cent less likely to pass the virus on to their household contacts than those who were unvaccinated.

England's Chief Medical Officer (CMO) told a Downing Street news conference that the 'wider question' was about whether such a programme would help limit Covid's disruption to schooling 

The UK administered just 368,555 Covid-19 vaccine doses on Monday (pictured: latest figures) well under half the 844,285 it managed on a single day in March

There is also data to suggest that teenagers are more likely to spread Covid - and this is one of the reasons behind potentially vaccinating children in the UK.

But campaigners have warned that Covid jabs must not be made compulsory for children. 

Activists say students should not be dragged out of classrooms if they decide not to have the jab until further tests are done. 

Molly Kingsley, co-founder of children's campaign group UsforThem, said she was worried about forcing jabs on schoolchildren.

The mother from Cambridgeshire told MailOnline: 'Whilst we understand there may be a need for children with specific vulnerabilities to have the Covid-19 vaccine, UsforThem are extremely concerned about suggestions about a mass roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine to children.

'Education is a fundamental right for any child and it absolutely must not be tied to the willingness of individual children or the cohort at large to be vaccinated.

'It artificially inflates the 'benefit' side of the equation - closing schools is a policy choice and once all adults have been double vaccinated it is unclear why we'd make that choice.

'Children have been put at the bottom of the heap for over a year now and it would be unconscionable to ask children to take a vaccine for which there is no long term safety data especially given the lack of direct benefit to children.'

It comes as more than 50,000 people have now signed a petition against Covid vaccinations for youngsters.

It comes as more than 50,000 people signed a petition against Covid vaccinations for youngsters

The appeal to Parliament had raked in 54,895 as of Tuesday morning as it called on the government to avoid jabbing youngsters.

Retired paediatrician Dr Ros Jones created the page and called for officials to delay giving doses to under 18s until after 'Phase 3 trials are complete'.

She wrote: 'A risk vs benefit calculation does not support giving COVID-19 vaccines, which use novel technologies and are still in Phase 3 trials, to healthy children.

'Any rollout should not start until trials are complete and all findings are published and peer-reviewed on long-term safety data.

'Healthy children are at low risk from COVID-19 yet face known and unknown risks from COVID-19 vaccines.

'Rare, but serious, adverse events and deaths are being reported to monitoring systems around the world.

'Official guidance is updated as the side-effects become more apparent. Giving Covid-19 vaccines to healthy children to protect adults is unethical and unjustifiable.

'The Government has an ethical duty to act with caution and proportionality.'

The Government responded: 'The Government will continue to evaluate evidence and assess expert opinion before making a decision on routinely vaccinating children under 18 years old.'

Despite the backlash from parents, teachers' unions appear to be mostly in favour of jabbing children.

Joint General Secretary of the NEU Kevin Courtney said: 'The NEU would welcome the extension of vaccination to school students when and if that is approved - this would lead to children missing less in-person education.

'In the meantime we should continue to take all appropriate measures, including face coverings and better ventilation, to reduce the risks of transmission.'

Meanwhile, headteacher Polly Lancaster today told BBC Radio 4 that current Covid rules in schools aren't working.

Ms Lancaster, a headteacher for Saffron Walden County High School in Essex told the Today Programme: '

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