The NHS has drawn up contingency plans to vaccinate secondary school children against Covid later this year, in a move that could help prevent school closures if infections rise after the lifting of lockdown.
The proposal is included in “core planning scenario” documents compiled by NHS officials which show that a single dose could be offered to children aged 12 and over when the new school year starts.
Any decision to roll out the vaccine to children in that age group will depend on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the Sunday Times reported.
The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, appeared to confirm on Sunday that such as plan was under consideration. He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday he would not speculate beyond the existing road map, but said: “You’re right that we’re looking at all the different contingencies to make sure that the easing-up of the restrictions, the returning to normal, can be done in a safe and secure way.”
Covid infection rates among 10 to 19-year-olds are far lower than in the last wave of the pandemic, but they are still higher than any other age group in England, according to weekly surveillance data, though part of that may be down to increased testing in schools.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed it is awaiting the outcome of clinical trials into the safety and effectiveness of vaccines among children and young adults.
“As we’ve already said, we are preparing for a booster programme to take place from the autumn and we continue to plan for all scenarios,” a spokesperson said. “No decisions have been made on whether children should be offered vaccinations and we will be guided by the experts once clinical trials have concluded.”
The JCVI currently advises that only children at very high risk of severe Covid should be offered a vaccination, and then only at the discretion of their consultant. The Pfizer vaccine, which is reportedly being considered for use among children aged 12 and above, is only licensed for use in those aged 16 and over.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency would have to lower the age threshold to 12 to enable a wider roll out. Pfizer started trials on 12 to 15-year-olds last July and on younger children in March this year.
Prof Adam Finn, a member of JCVI, told the Sunday Times the decision would depend on rates of the virus over the next few months, including after all lockdown restrictions lift, which is expected to be on 21 June. From 17 May it is expected that six people or two households will be able to meet indoors, with hugging possibly allowed. Cinemas and hotels will reopen, indoor exercise will restart and large indoor sports and entertainment venues will open with no more than 1,000 spectators.
“We need to be in a position to immunise children, particularly teenagers, promptly and efficiently if we need to,” Finn told the newspaper. It would be a priority to vaccinate children to prevent a repeat of school closures, he said.
If community transmission were low, however, such a programme may not be necessary. It would also depend on vaccine supplies later in the year.
As of Friday, 34.3 million people had received their first vaccine dose in the UK and 14.9 million their second dose. An average of more than 500,000 doses are being administered daily.
“We have hit our target of offering vaccines to everyone in phase one of the programme,” said a DHSC spokesperson. “We are on track to offer a jab to all adults by the end of July.”