UK Won't Vaccinate Most Children, Teenagers for COVID, Will Wait for More Data

The U.K. has decided they will not vaccinate most children and teenagers for COVID-19 and will wait until more data is available.

The British government's decision was in line with a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the Associated Press reported.

"Today's advice does not recommend vaccinating under-18s without underlying health conditions at this point in time," said a statement by the U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid. "But the JCVI will continue to review new data, and consider whether to recommend vaccinating under-18s without underlying health conditions at a future date."

The government said children at least 12 years of age are eligible for vaccination if they live in close contact with someone who is immunosuppressed. Also, children 12 and older that have Down Syndrome, major neuro-disabilities, immunosuppression, or multiple or severe learning disabilities are eligible.

Only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for eligible children and teenagers in the U.K.

The JCVI said the health benefits of receiving the vaccine are not greater than the risks for most young people.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Vaccine Center in London
The U.K. will not vaccinate most children and teenagers for COVID-19 in a new decision made by the government. In this photo, members of the public queue to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the Turbine Hall at a temporary COVID-19 vaccine center at the Tate Modern in central London on July 16, 2021. Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

The decision to hold off giving shots to most people under age 18 was based on the recommendation of an expert advisory panel. The JCVI said most young people typically suffer only mild symptoms of the virus.

The move not to vaccinate most young people puts the U.K. at odds with France and several other European countries, which have decided to vaccinate adolescents as young as 12.

Among hundreds of people at a Paris vaccination center Friday, scores were teenagers with their parents. The French government announced last week that it plans to set up vaccine drives at middle schools, high schools and universities in the fall.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the only one British regulators have authorized for use in those under 18. The University of Oxford is still conducting trials of the safety and effectiveness in children of the vaccine it developed with AstraZeneca.

Aside from medical and scientific questions surrounding the use of COVID-19 vaccines by adolescents, many public health experts have raised questions about the morality of inoculating low-risk children at a time when many of the world's most vulnerable people still lack access to vaccines.

Professor Andrew Pollard, who was instrumental in developing the AstraZeneca vaccine, told Parliament's science and technology committee last month that vulnerable adults elsewhere should be prioritized over children.

"It is older adults, those with other health conditions, and health care workers who are looking after them, who absolutely have to be prioritized,″ he said.

The Oxford trial should help policymakers decide whether they want to extend mass vaccination programs to children at some point in the future as they seek to ensure schools are safe and combat the spread of the virus in the wider population, Pollard said.

The announcement came on what the government has dubbed "Freedom Day," the day most of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions were removed throughout England. Bars and restaurants can now operate at full capacity and nightclubs are reopening for the first time in 16 months.

The government decided to lift the restrictions because 88 percent of the adult population has now received at least one dose of vaccine and more than two-thirds are fully vaccinated. While infections are rising rapidly, the high level of vaccination means that fewer people are becoming seriously ill than during earlier waves of the virus.

First Tower of London Tour in Months
Children will be allowed COVID vaccines in the UK if they live close to someone who is immunocompromised. Here, visitors take the first tour of the Tower of London in 16 months since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, in London on July 19, 2021. Matt Dunham/AP Photo