As the UK looks to emerge from the devastating coronavirus pandemic, one major decision remains to be made - vaccinating healthy children.
One senior government adviser has said there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the “finely balanced” decision on vaccinating healthy 12 to 15-year-olds. However, other experts contend that failing to give children the jab leaves them exposed to as-yet unknown long-term effects of the virus.
Last week, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said it did not advise giving the vaccine to healthy 12 to 15 year olds, saying that the risk of severe illness was small and, therefore, the potential for benefit from COVID-19 vaccination was also small.
Despite this, politicians could yet overrule that advice.
According to the Times, England's Chief Medical Officer is Chris Whitty expected to approve a COVID-19 vaccination programme for all 12 to 15 year olds.
Professor Whitty has been asked by the government to make the final decision on jabbing youngsters and expanding the roll-out to include all over-12s.
It could see secondary school children given their first doses in just over a week.
Advisers have told Prof Whitty that the vaccination could boost the mental health of youngsters and stop them taking time off school, The Times reported.
Since 23 August teenagers aged 16 and 17 in England have been offered vaccines, but only critically vulnerable 12-15 year olds have had the chance to get a jab.
Last week Boris Johnson said the UK needed to "go faster" with the vaccination of 16 to 17-year olds in order to stem the spread of coronavirus as schools reopened.
Supporters of a vaccine programme for over 12s say that even though the risks to children and teenagers from catching COVID are very low, they are not entirely absent.
Countries such as the US, Israel, France and Germany have all recommended over-12s be universally vaccinated.
However, supporters say vaccinating children can make it safer for them at school and could also be a strategy to protect vulnerable adults who they could pass the disease on to.
So which countries are already vaccinating over 12s?
Professor Christina Pagel, director of University College London's Clinical Operation Research Unit, posted a thread on Twitter on Thursday listing countries that have been vaccinating over-12s, in an effort to highlight the safety of the strategy.
She wrote: "UK is one of the very few high-income countries left that isn't [vaccinating over-12s]."
Prof Pagel continued: "Almost first off the block in vaccinating 12-17 yr olds were USA and Canada in May.
Canada emphasises the importance of vax to protect kids from acute COVID, prevent long term impacts from COVID and reduce transmission to others."
Prof Pagel wrote: "The US has now given at least one dose to over half of 12-17 year olds and experts there think it has gone well." She added that there was a "big variation by state though".
What about elsewhere?
Numerous countries around the world have approved the vaccine for healthy children.
The list includes the USA and Canada plus Israel, Indonesia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Mexico, Chile and Dubai.
Numerous European countries have also approved the jab.
According to the Spanish Health Ministry’s latest health report on 20 August, 55.4 per cent of the 3.9 million 12 to 19-year-olds in Spain had already received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The decision as to whether or not to offer the vaccine to those under 18 comes under regional authorities. As a result, different areas started offering vaccines at different times.
France began offering COVID vaccinations to all over-12s on 15 June. From the end of September, younger teenagers will join the over-18s in needing a “health pass” – showing proof of vaccination or a recent negative test – to visit cafes, entertainment venues and public events, take a long-distance train or participate in organised sport.
The Pfizer vaccine was authorised for 12- to 15-year-olds in late May, with bookings across most regions beginning in July, and in August the Moderna jab was approved for 12- to 17-year-olds.
The Danish Health Authority approved vaccinating children in the 12-15 age range in June, with vaccinations starting in July.
Switzerland approved the Pfizer vaccine for children over 12 in early June.
Republic of Ireland
Ireland has had a high vaccine uptake in the adult population with more than 90% of adults over 18 having received one dose and 84 per cent being fully vaccinated by the end of August.
The portal to register a child aged 12-15 for vaccination against COVID opened on 11 August and received 75,000 applications in the first 48 hours alone.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least half of Poland’s population have been vaccinated.
Pfizer and Moderna have both been approved for over 12s, with the former being approved in June. Of those aged 12-17, 685,277 people were vaccinated with at least one dose by 16 August according to the Polish health ministry.
Vaccines were initially only recommended for children with underlying conditions, but in the wake of the spread of the Delta variant, it was decided on 16 August to offer a vaccine to all children over 12.
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