London: Britain is set to expand the offer of a COVID-19 vaccine to all 12- to 15-year-olds, after top medical advisers said on Monday that children would benefit from reduced disruption to their education.
The Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) recommended that children aged 12-15 in Britain get a first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) earlier this month decided against making the recommendation.
The United States, Israel and some European countries have rolled out vaccinations to children more broadly, putting pressure on the British government to follow suit.
There have been more than 134,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Britain, and a rapid start to its vaccination rollout has slowed, with 81% of those over 16 receiving two vaccine doses.
The JCVI had previously said the decision to vaccinate children was "finely balanced" as the government then sought further advice on the issue.
The CMOs in a letter said that vaccinating children could reduce COVID-19 transmission and thus disruption to schools, and those benefits "on balance provide sufficient extra advantage... to recommend in favour of vaccinating this group."
"(Vaccination) will reduce education disruption," Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, said at a news briefing.
"We do not think that this is a panacea, there's no silver bullet... but we think it is an important and potentially useful additional tool to help reduce the public health impacts that come through educational disruption."
The CMOs of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said a first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine should be offered to all children and young people aged 12-15 not already covered by existing JCVI advice.
The four nations of the United Kingdom each set their own health policy, and must 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.