FILE PHOTO: A person receives a dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine at the Central Middlesex Hospital in London, Britain, August 1, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

The UK’s top medics on Monday (September 13) recommended that all 12 to 15-year-olds receive a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, citing the benefit on avoiding disruption to education after a vaccination panel had said the decision was finely balanced. 

The advice from the chief medical officers (CMOs) in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland paves the way for the broad vaccination of children aged 12-15 in Britain, after the Joint Committee on Vaccination (JCVI) earlier in the month decided against making the recommendation.

The CMOs said that vaccinating children could reduce disruption to schools, and that “on balance provide sufficient extra advantage… to recommend in favour of vaccinating this group.”

“(The UK CMOs) therefore recommend on public health grounds that ministers extend the offer of universal vaccination with a first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to all children and young people aged 12-15 not already covered by existing JCVI advice,” the CMOs said in a letter.

The government must formally indicate whether it will follow the CMOs’ advice, though some ministers have previously expressed support for vaccinations for children. Vulnerable children in that age bracket were already eligible for shots.

The CMOs said second doses would not be offered to the age group until at least spring as they would wait for data to build up internationally.

Meanwhile, commenting on the announcement by the chief medical officers, Ruth Rankine, director of primary care at the NHS Confederation, said: “We are only just scratching the surface in understanding the impact that the pandemic has had on children and young people’s wellbeing, with demand for mental health services having increased significantly already across this age group.

“The need to keep one another safe and reduce disruption to education and our daily lives, as well as protect NHS services through vaccination, alongside the range of established infection control measures, are as important as ever, as is the need for clear communication in explaining the benefits of vaccination.

“We now await the detailed guidance on how this will be delivered but should not underestimate the potential impact this will have on primary care teams particularly as they also commence a Covid-19 booster programme as well as managing increasing complexity of patient need.

“The choice of whether to have the vaccine or not may be difficult for many, and as we know from previous announcements, patient questions and anxiety can end up being directed to primary care, so this will need an effective communication programme which responds to questions from parents and children but equally does not further significantly increase workload on these services.”

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