The UK government announced Wednesday it will offer coronavirus vaccinations to all 16 and 17-year-olds, but not to younger healthy teenagers as in many other Western countries.
The move follows updated guidance from British health regulators that the country’s vaccine drive should be extended to those aged 16 and 17 without underlying health issues after a review of the latest data.
However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) made no change to its current advice to the government that only 12 to 15-year-olds deemed vulnerable should be jabbed.
This contrasts with the United States, which announced in May that younger teens would be vaccinated, and the European Union’s medicines regulator which has approved two shots for all over-12s.
Britain’s health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed he had accepted the UK experts’ latest recommendations and asked the state-run National Health Service (NHS) “to prepare to vaccinate those eligible as soon as possible”.
“JCVI will continue to review data and provide updates on at risk groups aged 12-15 and whether any additional groups will be added,” he said in a statement.
The older teenagers eligible will receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved for use in Britain for people aged 12 and over.
Regulators have not yet decided when they should get their second doses, with a further recommendation likely in the coming weeks.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said at a televised briefing to announce the change that he wanted the NHS to begin jabbing 16 and 17-year-olds “as fast as practically possible”.
“It has been preparing for multiple permutations and options for very many weeks now, and I would expect this programme will start in a very short number of weeks,” he added.
Health experts welcomed the move, with Russell Viner, professor of Child and Adolescent Health at University College London, calling it a “sensible step”.
“There are important social and educational benefits for protecting young people and reducing transmission in the upper years of secondary school,” he said.
Britain’s fast-paced vaccination programme has seen nearly 89 percent of adults given at least one dose, while close to two-thirds are now fully jabbed.
Since easing all virus curbs in England on July 19, the number of new daily cases has declined, prompting hopes the vaccines are succeeding in defeating the pandemic in Britain.