Vaccinating children could have “upsides” by preventing school classrooms from being shut down due to coronavirus outbreaks, Matt Hancock has argued.
The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine was approved for use by the UK regulator in children aged 12 to 15 on Friday but experts have flagged ethical concerns in issuing jabs to a group that is classified as being at low risk from Covid-19.
The Health Secretary said he would be considering advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on the “right approach” before making a final decision.
But the senior Government minister said there were “plenty of good reasons” for inoculating children, despite admitting it was “very rare” that young people are affected “very negatively” by coronavirus infection.
He said preventing long Covid in children and putting a stop to school disruptions could be two reasons to go ahead with offering vaccines to those aged 12-15, following the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA) recent Pfizer ruling.
Mr Hancock told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: “As of today we are vaccinating people aged 30 and over, next week we’ll move to opening up vaccinations to the under-30s who are adults, so we have a few weeks yet until we come out with a plan for exactly how and if we take this forward.
“We know that the vaccine both protects you and helps you stop transmitting, and I want to protect education as much as anybody does… and so making sure that we don’t have those whole bubbles having to go home, especially as we saw over the autumn for instance, that has upsides for education.”
His comments come as a Government adviser said he was “not sure” it was the right time to be giving shots to children when vaccines were needed in developing countries to guard against deaths.
Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Breakfast: “If we haven’t got enough vaccine in the world and you want to do most to save lives, then sending the vaccine to Africa or to India, to places that need it, would actually have greater impact.
“There’s a really interesting moral and ethical balance here between doing most for most people on a global benefit and doing most for society, the wellbeing, in our country.”
The Prime Minister is set to use the G7 gathering in Cornwall this week to urge world leaders to ensure the world is vaccinated by the end of 2022, with reports suggesting he is preparing to hand over 100 million doses to developing nations.
Prof Semple, asked if it was time for the UK to start jabbing teenagers, added: “I’m not sure it is.
“Although a large proportion of the infections currently are in children, the overall number of infections is vastly reduced on what it was during wave one and wave two.”
Labour’s Lisa Nandy said the Government should take the advice of public health officials when it came to vaccinating under-18s.
The shadow foreign secretary told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I think the regulator was absolutely clear that for 12-year-olds and over the Pfizer vaccine is safe, and it’s becoming apparent that the rise in transmission rates is being driven amongst younger people, not just school-aged children but secondary school-aged children as well.
“I think that it is right to follow the public health officials, particularly those in areas that are saying ‘this is what they want to do’.
“I think the Government ought to be listening to people on the front line.”