Need to Know: Covid-19 Vaccine for 12 to 15 Year-Olds

Covid-19 jabs for secondary school-age children could soon be offered in schools across the UK, but how will the vaccines be rolled out?
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

UK chief medical officers have given the go-ahead for a single dose of the Pfizer jab to be offered to children aged 12 to 15 years. But who is eligible, is it compulsory, and will parents have to give their permission?

Children at secondary schools across the UK should be offered the Covid-19 vaccine to help prevent a surge of cases in the winter, according to the country's four chief medical officers. The four CMOs have recommended to the government that every child in the UK aged 12 or over is vaccinated. 

The move means that around three million children could be eligible for the jab. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) had said that Covid-19 presents a very low risk for healthy children and vaccination would only offer a marginal benefit. However it suggested that wider issues, such as education, should be taken into consideration and examined by CMOs.

Following the announcement today (September 13), we look at the what, when, how and why?

Is the Covid-19 vaccine compulsory for all 12-15 year-olds?

No, Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, has said that an "offer" of vaccination should be made to all children aged 12-15.

Which vaccine will be given?

The CMOs have recommend that children in this age group are given a single dose of Pfizer; a second dose should not be considered before the Spring Term. 

Under-18s are already being given the Pfizer vaccine. The EU approved the Pfizer vaccine for over-12s in May, however the vaccine is not currently approved for use in the under-12s in the UK.

Why is it recommended for children to get the Covid-19 vaccine?

Professor Whitty said that while it was a "difficult decision" to vaccinate children in the 12 to 15 age group, it would reduce any disruption to education over the next few months by helping to reduce transmission of the virus.

The report by the CMOs said:

“Whilst full closures of schools due to lockdowns is much less likely to be necessary in the next stages of the Covid-19 epidemic, UK CMOs expect the epidemic to continue to be prolonged and unpredictable. Local surges of infection, including in schools, should be anticipated for some time. Where they occur, they are likely to be disruptive.”

Will students need their parents' permission to be vaccinated?

The vaccine is most likely to be given in schools, and parents will be asked to give their consent. However, if the child and parent have different views, the child can give consent themselves if they are "believed to have enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what's involved in their treatment". 

The CMOs said that individual choice should be respected and that children and parents are "supported in their decisions, whatever decisions they take, and are not stigmatised either for accepting, or not accepting, the vaccination offer".

Children aged 16 and 17 do not need the permission of a parent to have the vaccine.

Are children in the 12-15 age group being vaccinated in other countries?

Children over the age of 12 are already being vaccinated in several countries, including Hong Kong, Canada and Brazil. France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy have begun vaccinating children in this age group, and China aims to have all 12 to 17-year-olds vaccinated by October.

In Hong Kong, children aged 12 and over can receive the BioNTech vaccine, while those aged 18 and above can choose the Sinovac vaccination; the government will only allow individual primary and secondary schools to open for full-day sessions if 70% or more of their students, teachers and school staff have been vaccinated.

In the UAE, children aged 12 years and older are offered the Pfizer jab and children as young as three years old can have the Sinopharm vaccine. In the capital, Abu Dhabi, unvaccinated students over the age of 12 are required to take a weekly PCR test.

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