LONDON (AP) — Britain decided Monday to follow other countries in offering coronavirus vaccines to children 12 and up, as the government gambled that expanded vaccination and mild tweaks to social behavior can avert the need for lockdowns in the winter.
Vaccinations for children and booster shots for at-risk adults are part of a "tool kit" to control COVID-19 infections this fall and winter that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce today at a news conference.
On Monday, the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland recommended children aged 12-15 be given a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, despite the government's vaccine advisors saying this month the step would have only marginal health benefits.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government had accepted the recommendation and would start the vaccinations next week.
Other countries — including the United States, Canada, France and Italy — already offer coronavirus vaccines to children 12 and up, but Britain has held off. It is currently inoculating people 16 and up, almost 90 percent of those eligible have had at least one vaccine dose.
Earlier this month, Britain's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said vaccines should be given to 12- to 15-year-olds with underlying health conditions. But it did not back a rollout to healthy children, who are at low risk of serious illness from the virus, saying the direct health benefits were marginal.
However, it said there might be wider societal factors to consider, such as on education or children acting as sources of transmission to more vulnerable groups.
The chief medical officers said Monday vaccination would help limit transmission of the virus in schools and help children's mental health by reducing disruption to education.
England Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said vaccinating children was "an important, potentially useful additional tool" in the fight against the virus.