Sixteen-year-olds will be offered a first coronavirus jab in a matter of weeks and will not need the consent of their parents to get a vaccine.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that 16 and 17-year-olds should be offered the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – the only Covid-19 jab approved for use for people over the age of 12 in the UK.
Ministers across the UK have accepted the recommendation and the NHS is making preparations to start giving first doses in coming weeks.
The Prime Minister urged families to listen to the JCVI advice about extending the vaccination programme to children.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to Scotland, Boris Johnson said: “I would just urge all families thinking about this across the country to listen to the JCVI.
“They are extremely expert, they’re amongst the best, if not the best in the world – they know what’s safe and I think we should listen to them and take our lead from them.”
Vaccination experts are yet to set out the timeline for when youngsters should get their second dose, and will make further recommendations in the coming weeks.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for the JCVI, said: “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, we expect one dose of the vaccine to provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalisation.”
He said that 16-year-olds will not need parental consent to get the vaccine, telling a Downing Street press briefing: “In the UK a person who is 16 years and above is deemed able to consent for themselves, and if they are competent and able to consent for themselves then that consent holds.”
The JCVI estimates that young people will have 80% protection against hospital admission following receipt of their first dose.
Officials are not ruling out vaccinations for otherwise healthy 12 to 15-year-olds but want to look at more information first.
At present, children over the age of 12 are only eligible for a vaccine if they have certain medical conditions that put them at risk from Covid-19 or are teenagers who live with people who are immunocompromised.
Experts said that they expect the list of eligible children to be expanded in coming weeks.
Some commentators have welcomed the move to jab older teenagers, saying that extending the vaccine programme will help reduce infection rates and transmission of the virus as well as curb disruption to schooling.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said there was “no time to waste” in starting the extension of the vaccination programme, adding that he expects the rollout of first doses could be completed in an academic term.
“Children are going to start going back to colleges and sixths forms from September, and in Scotland that will be slightly earlier, so there is no time to waste in getting on with this,” he told the press conference.
“Now we have the JCVI advice on starting that initial first dose in 16 and 17-year-olds, then I want us to proceed as fast as is practically possible. That isn’t going to be tomorrow, I don’t think it is likely to be early next week.”
He said there was “plentiful” supply of vaccine, adding: “The NHS has been preparing for multiple options for very many weeks now and I would expect this programme will start in a very short number of weeks.
Experts have been constantly reviewing the data on vaccines for children.
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said that the decision to vaccinate teenagers came following “rigorously reviewed” trials in children and young people.
She said the medicines regulator would continue to scrutinise vaccine data.
Information which had led the JCVI to reconsider the position on vaccinating children aged 16 and 17 included the recent surge of infections, more data on the safety of the vaccines and the excellent progress of the adult vaccination programme.
The JCVI said that a number of factors have been considered but the most important element was the risk/benefit of vaccination to the individual.
The expert group considered reports of heart inflammation among some younger adults who had the jab, but officials said that this was considered to be “extremely rare”, affecting around one in 100,000 people vaccinated. And the effects are “mild” with a short recovery period.
Children who have had the vaccine in clinical trials and real world data suggest that some get short-lived side effects after inoculation, including fever, sore arm, headache and tiredness.
The NHS will set out plans on the rollout of the programme shortly, with a spokesperson saying they will be “issuing operational guidance to mobilise these changes swiftly and safely”.
It comes as Mr Johnson said he wanted a “balanced” approach to international travel.
“I know how important holidays are to people,” Mr Johnson said.
“People think about them, they save up for them, people yearn to go abroad this year – I totally get that,” he said.
“We’ve got to balance that against the need to protect our country against the influx of of new variants.
“We’ve got a balanced policy but clearly we have the benefit now of the double-jab system that is enabling us to … come from the countries in the EU, without having to quarantine, and the same goes for the US.”
Meanwhile, the Government said a further 119 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK total to 130,000.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 155,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
As of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 29,312 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.