Coronavirus: Children and the Vaccine

Dear Constituent,

Thank you for contacting me about offering COVID-19 vaccination to 12- to 15-year-olds. 

As the Chief Medical Officer has said, the COVID-19 Delta variant is highly infectious and very common, so the great majority of the unvaccinated will catch COVID-19. The likelihood of children becoming severely ill if they catch COVID-19 is thankfully very low, but there is still some risk. I am glad, therefore, that time has been taken to assess this decision carefully and thoroughly. 

Earlier this year, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the COVID-19 vaccines supplied by Pfizer and Moderna for 12- to 17-year-olds. It confirmed that both vaccines are safe and effective for this age group. The MHRA is one of the best medical regulators in the world and I can reassure you that authorisation would not be approved unless the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness have been met. 

While the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) assessed that the health benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms, the margin of benefit was considered too small to support universal vaccination on this basis alone. That is why additional advice was sought and the UK’s Chief Medical Officers considered the matter from a broader perspective.  

In their view, the likely advantages of reducing educational disruption, and the consequent reduction in public health harm, including mental health, from that disruption, on balance provide sufficient benefit in addition to those identified by the JCVI. The CMOs therefore recommend extending the offer of universal vaccination, with a first dose of Pfizer, to all 12- to 15-year olds and the Government has accepted this advice. 

I understand that vaccination will be delivered in schools, supported by GPs and community pharmacies. Parental, guardian or carer consent will be sought prior to vaccination, in line with existing programmes. It is important that children can understand the risks and benefits of vaccination for themselves, so it is welcome that information will be provided in a way that is accessible to children and young people as well as their parents.  

Given the success of the rollout amongst adults, it is possible to take a more precautionary approach to rollout among younger people. This means that first doses will be prioritised and recommendations on the second dose will be delayed to allow the JCVI to provide the best available advice with the latest information for the second dose. I welcome this approach, which will ensure younger people are provided with some immediate protection from severe disease. I understand that the aim is for the second dose to be given later as this will extend protection for a longer period, however further data and the potential availability of alternative vaccine options will inform exact details which will be set out in due course.

It is important to weigh up the benefits of vaccination against any possible, though extremely rare, side effects and I am satisfied that the JCVI has done just that when giving their latest advice. Advice provided by the independent JCVI has been invaluable in ensuring a safe, effective, and successful vaccination programme. While COVID-19 is typically mild or asymptomatic in most young people, it can be very unpleasant for some and for this particular age group, it is expected that one dose of vaccine will provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalisation.

At every point in the vaccination programme, decisions have been guided by the best clinical advice and I know that this decision is no different. I hope all those aged 12 to 15 will accept this offer of vaccination. 

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.