UK to approve COVID-19 vaccines for 12-15s

·2-min read

Britain has decided to follow other countries in offering COVID-19 vaccines to children 12 and up, as the government gambled that expanded vaccination and mild tweaks to social behaviour can avert the need for lockdowns in the winter.

Vaccinations for children and booster shots for at-risk adults are part of a "tool kit" to control COVID-19 infections this autumn and winter that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce Tuesday at a news conference.

On Monday, the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland recommended that children aged 12 to 15 be given a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, despite the government's vaccine advisors saying this month that the step would have only marginal health benefits.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government had accepted the recommendation and would start the vaccinations next week.

Other countries - including the United States, Canada, France and Italy - already offer vaccines to children 12 and up, but Britain has held off. It is currently inoculating people 16 and up, almost 90 per cent of those eligible have had at least one vaccine dose.

The chief medical officers said Monday that vaccination would help limit transmission of the virus in schools and help children's mental health by reducing disruption to education.

England Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said vaccinating children was "an important, potentially useful additional tool" in the fight against the virus.

But he said it had not been a "barn-door obvious" decision and it was appropriate "that people have taken longer to get to this and to make sure that we have weighed all the different elements up to get this right."

Children will initially receive a single vaccine dose through their schools. The UK has yet to decide on whether to give them a second dose.

Johnson's Conservative government is hoping that widespread vaccinations, rather than restrictions, will keep COVID-19 infections in check during the colder months, when respiratory viruses spread more easily.

The announcement of a new virus road map comes a year after Johnson resisted scientific advice to put the country into lockdown - only to perform a U-turn within weeks as coronavirus cases soared.

Virus cases now are 10 times the rate of a year ago, but vaccines are protecting many Britons from serious illness.

Still, the UK is recording more than 100 coronavirus deaths a day, and more than 8000 people are hospitalised with COVID-19. That is less than a quarter of the wintertime peak, but the number is climbing.

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