Offering a Covid-19 vaccine to 16 and 17-year-olds could reduce transmission of the virus and limit disruption to their schooling, experts have said.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected to make a recommendation on extending the vaccination programme “imminently”, officials have said.
Once approved by ministers more than a million more teenagers will be eligible to get a vaccine.
The latest data from the React study, tracking Covid-19 in the population, showed that younger people had driven a recent surge in infections in England, and scientists said extending the vaccine programme would reduce transmission and limit the spread of the virus in winter months.
Asked about giving 16 and 17-year-olds a vaccine, Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London and co-author of the React study, told LBC: “Our data would support that in that we’d expect there to be a really good knock-on effect from extending the vaccinations for that group.”
Offering a vaccine to children age 12 and over “would also reduce transmission”, he added.
He said: “What we should probably think about is September, October, November: how much immunity can we have in order to hopefully keep prevalence going down, so there is justification in extending those vaccinations down.”
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React programme, and chairman of epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The big increase in the virus was being driven by these younger age groups, so anything we can do to reduce transmission in that group would be helpful.”
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) which advises the Government, said jabbing teenagers could have a “major effect” on the return of the virus in winter.
The professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London said: “JCVI are right to continue to monitor safety data from UK studies and from other countries, balancing risks and benefits of vaccination vs natural infection at different ages.
“Vaccination of teenagers may have a major effect on the return of Covid next winter, assuming that the rates will drop this summer.
“Full vaccination takes time, so the sooner we start, the sooner this age group will be protected.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said extending the programme would reduce disruption to schooling.
“Anything that gives the reassurance to young people that they are being treated in the way that the adult population is and that their education won’t be disrupted to the extent it has been – that has to be welcomed,” he told the Today programme.
“I’m sure many parents, with their youngsters, will think at last we’re starting to give a real sense of priority to young people’s education.
“I think that generally… young people feel they’ve been let down educationally. If this is one way we can get rid of that disruption I think we will see a great sense of a lot of young people, not all, but a lot of young people thinking, ‘Actually, I’m going to have the vaccine, just like my mum or my dad has’.”
Universities minister Michelle Donelan said ministers were expecting an announcement from the JCVI “imminently”.
She told Sky News: “We are waiting for the JCVI announcement. At every stage throughout the pandemic we’ve adopted their advice on this. They are the experts, of course, when we’re
determining the vaccine rollout and we’ll await their imminent announcement shortly.”
Under existing guidance some under-18s are eligible for a jab if they have certain health conditions, live with someone who is immunocompromised, or are approaching their 18th birthday.
NHS data shows 223,755 under-18s in England have already received a first dose.
Around 1.4 million 16 and 17-year-olds will be eligible when the programme is extended.
They are expected to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which has been approved for use in the UK for people aged 12 and over.
On Tuesday, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament: “We are waiting on JCVI advice. When I say ‘we’, I am obviously referring to the Scottish Government, but the UK, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are in the same position.”
Ms Sturgeon also outlined how laws on the wearing of face masks would stay in place when many of Scotland’s other remaining coronavirus restrictions are lifted on August 9.
She said the requirement to wear masks will remain for “some time to come”.
But close contacts of people who test positive for Covid will no longer be required to automatically self-isolate for 10 days under the new Scottish system.
A double-vaccinated Scot who has at least two weeks since their last dose will be able to take a PCR test that would allow them to abandon self-isolation if they test negative.
Similar changes will also be brought in for Wales on Monday, but England will have to wait another week – until August 16 – for self-isolation rules to ease.
Updated guidance on travel is also expected in coming days.
Reports suggested a number of countries including Germany and Austria are due to be added to the green list of travel restrictions, while Spain could avoid the red list – the most stringent measures.
Asked if people should stay at home for holidays this year, Ms Donelan told Sky News: “No, some people have planned some fantastic holidays to countries, including green-list countries.
“We will get that update… this week from the Department for Transport as to what the latest iteration around the traffic light system (is), as we do every three weeks. Also there are some fantastic and amazing places to holiday here in the UK… I would strongly advocate that a staycation is a good option this year, just as going abroad is too.”