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JCVI recommend one dose of Covid vaccination for healthy 12-15-year-olds

Healthy children aged 12 to 15 should be offered one dose of a Covid vaccine, the UK's chief medical officers say.

Professor Chris Witty, Chief Medical Officer for England made a statement this afternoon outlining recommendations to ministers.

Statement below from Professor Chris Witty Chief Medical Officer for England:

All drugs, vaccines and surgical procedures have both risks and benefits. If the risks exceed benefits the drug, vaccine or procedure should not be advised, and a drug or vaccine will not be authorised by MHRA. If benefits exceed risks then medical practitioners may advise the drug or vaccine, but the strength of their advice will depend on the degree of benefit over risk.

At an individual level, the view of the MHRA, the JCVI and international regulators is that there is an advantage to someone aged 12 to 15 of being vaccinated over being unvaccinated. The COVID-19 Delta variant is highly infectious and very common, so the great majority of the unvaccinated will get COVID-19. In those aged 12 to 15, COVID-19 rarely, but occasionally, leads to serious illness, hospitalisation and even less commonly death. The risks of vaccination (mainly myocarditis) are also very rare. The absolute advantage to being vaccinated in this age group is therefore small (‘marginal’) in the view of the JCVI. On its own the view of the JCVI is that this advantage, whilst present, is insufficient to justify a universal offer in this age group. Accepting this advice, UK CMOs looked at wider public health benefits and risks of universal vaccination in this age group to determine if this shifts the risk-benefit either way.

Of these, the most important in this age group was impact on education. UK CMOs also considered impact on mental health and operational issues such as any possible negative impact on other vaccine programmes, noting that influenza vaccination and other immunisations of children and young people are well-established, important, and that the annual flu vaccine deployment programme commences imminently.

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The UK CMOs, in common with the clinical and wider public health community, consider education one of the most important drivers of improved public health and mental health, and have laid this out in their advice to parents and teachers in a previous joint statement. Evidence from clinical and public health colleagues, general practice, child health and mental health consistently makes clear the massive impact that absent, or disrupted, face-to-face education has had on the welfare and mental health of many children and young people. This is despite remarkable efforts by parents and teachers to maintain education in the face of disruption.

The negative impact has been especially great in areas of relative deprivation which have been particularly badly affected by COVID-19. The effects of missed or disrupted education are even more apparent and enduring in these areas. The effects of disrupted education, or uncertainty, on mental health are well recognised. There can be lifelong effects on health if extended disruption to education leads to reduced life chances.

Whilst full closures of schools due to lockdowns is much less likely to be necessary in the next stages of the COVID-19 epidemic, UK CMOs expect the epidemic to continue to be prolonged and unpredictable. Local surges of infection, including in schools, should be anticipated for some time. Where they occur, they are likely to be disruptive.

Every effort should be taken to minimise school disruption in policy decisions and local actions. Vaccination, if deployed, should only be seen as an adjunct to other actions to maintain children and young people in secondary school and minimise further education disruption and therefore medium and longer term public health harm.

On balance however, UK CMOs judge that it is likely vaccination will help reduce transmission of COVID-19 in schools which are attended by children and young people aged 12 to 15 years. COVID-19 is a disease which can be very effectively transmitted by mass spreading events, especially with Delta variant. Having a significant proportion of pupils vaccinated is likely to reduce the probability of such events which are likely to cause local outbreaks in, or associated with, schools. They will also reduce the chance an individual child gets COVID-19. This means vaccination is likely to reduce (but not eliminate) education disruption.

Set against this there are operational risks that COVID-19 vaccination could interfere with other, important, vaccination programmes in schools including flu vaccines.

Overall however the view of the UK CMOs is that the additional likely benefits of reducing educational disruption, and the consequent reduction in public health harm from educational disruption, on balance provide sufficient extra advantage in addition to the marginal advantage at an individual level identified by the JCVI to recommend in favour of vaccinating this group. They therefore recommend on public health grounds that ministers extend the offer of universal vaccination with a first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to all children and young people aged 12 to 15 not already covered by existing JCVI advice.

If ministers accept this advice, UK CMOs would want the JCVI to give a view on whether, and what, second doses to give to children and young people aged 12 to 15 once more data on second doses in this age group has accrued internationally. This will not be before the spring term.

In recommending this to ministers, UK CMOs recognise that the overwhelming benefits of vaccination for adults, where risk-benefit is very strongly in favour of vaccination for almost all groups, are not as clear-cut for children and young people aged 12 to 15. Children, young people and their parents will need to understand potential benefits, potential side effects and the balance between them.

If ministers accept this advice, issues of consent need to take this much more balanced risk-benefit into account. UK CMOs recommend that the Royal Colleges and other professional groups are consulted in how best to present the risk-benefit decisions in a way that is accessible to children and young people as well as their parents. A child-centred approach to communication and deployment of the vaccine should be the primary objective.

If ministers accept this advice, it is essential that children and young people aged 12 to 15 and their parents are supported in their decisions, whatever decisions they take, and are not stigmatised either for accepting, or not accepting, the vaccination offer. Individual choice should be respected.

Chief Medical Officer for England Prof. Christopher Whitty

There is more data behind this here

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