Vaccination experts are not planning to give the green light for administering Covid-19 jabs to children, a Cabinet minister has suggested.
Reports suggest that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will not advise the Government to press ahead with a vaccination campaign for under-18s.
It comes as one public health official said young children were at low risk of disease and the “risks of vaccination have yet to be fully elucidated”.
And a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said that a child’s chances of dying from Covid-19 are “one in a million”.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss told BBC Breakfast: “Of course the Government will look very closely at the JCVI’s recommendations.
“It is my understanding that they are not recommending the vaccination of under-18s and we will be saying more in due course about that.”
The UK’s medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use among children aged 12 and over in the UK.
But as of yet, officials have not confirmed whether the vaccination programme will extend to children once the adult vaccine campaign is complete.
“The advice would come from the JCVI in the first instance, they haven’t made any comments on that at this stage,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“We await a recommendation from the JCVI following the MHRA’s decision… we constantly followed the JCVI advice on prioritisation so we await that recommendation.”
Academics have debated the issue, with some arguing that the UK should follow the US and Israel and begin to vaccinate children to prevent outbreaks in schools.
Others have questioned the ethics of offering vaccines to children when it would have little clinical benefit.
And experts have also questioned whether it is right to vaccinate children, who have very little risk of becoming severely ill from Covid-19, when many of the most vulnerable people around the world are yet to receive a jab.
One of the scientists behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab said children should not receive a Covid-19 jab before vulnerable people in other countries have been vaccinated.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard told the Science and Technology Committee of MPs: “(There is) a moral objection to vaccinating a population that is (at) extremely low risk of disease. Whilst we know in many parts of the world, there are people who will die over the next three months because they have no access to the vaccine.
“The priority if we take a global perspective has to be to save lives around the world, and to have had doses made available as early as possible to those at greater risk.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, said the number of vaccines which would be needed to vaccinate 12 to 18-year-olds “won’t solve the global vaccines” issue, but added: “But we will not be through this pandemic until the whole world has had an ability to get vaccinated.”
Pressed on the question of childhood vaccination, she said: “You have to weigh up the risks and benefits, you have to see what is the benefits to vaccinating children actually for their own health, it is small at the moment.
“Clearly there is a risk of long Covid, particularly in teenage children, but we have yet to get a full assessment on that.
“I think that the challenge we have is the risks of vaccination have yet to be fully elucidated, particularly the potential risks from Pfizer and the heart conditions that are beginning to emerge from some countries that have vaccinated younger adults or teenagers, and particularly after the second dose.
“So I think we’ve got some careful monitoring to do post-second dose vaccines in the next age group up before we make rapid decisions in the younger age groups.”
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US is investigating very rare reports of heart inflammation among teenagers and young adults who have received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Most patients, who were predominantly male, responded well to medicine and rest and quickly felt better.
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The risk of death is one in a million. That’s not a figure I’m plucking from the air, that’s a quantifiable risk.
“We know in wave one and wave two put together there were 12 deaths in children – in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland put together – and that is rare, because there are about 13 to 14 million children in the UK.
“So we’re talking about vaccinating children here mainly to protect public health and reduce transmission.
“And it’s accepted that teenagers who are biologically more like adults are more likely to transmit.
“But younger children really are not – they are about a half to a third less likely to acquire the virus and similarly to pass it on.
“So we’re now coming into a really interesting ethical and moral debate here about vaccinating children for the benefit of others.”
Prof Semple, who is also a consultant respiratory paediatrician at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, added: “This is something that we do do happily for flu, but actually flu does make some very young children very sick too.”
He continued: “I’m veering on the not vaccinating children (argument) only because of the ethical issues, and the need to get the vaccine into the older people.”