Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) have decided, based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and further advice from the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), that a first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine should be offered to all children and young people aged 12-15. This is the remaining group not already eligible for vaccination under earlier JCVI advice on 12-15 year olds at risk of serious outcomes from covid-19.
The JCVI advised on 3 September that for healthy 12-15 year olds the health benefits from vaccination were marginally greater than the potential known harms but that the margin of benefit, based primarily on a health perspective, was too small for the Committee to advise a universal programme of vaccination. The JCVI suggested that the Government might wish to seek further views on the wider societal and educational impacts from the CMOs of the four nations.
The CMOs worked with a range of experts including representation from the JCVI looking at this wider picture. The advice, received on 13 September, sets out that overall the view of the UK CMOs is that the additional likely benefits of reducing educational disruption, and the consequent reduction in public health harm from educational disruption, on balance provide sufficient extra advantage in addition to the marginal advantage at an individual level identified by the JCVI to recommend in favour of vaccinating this group. The CMOs recommend that on public health grounds that Ministers extend the offer of universal vaccination with a first dose of Pfizer- BioNTech covid-19 vaccine to all children and young people aged 12-15 not already covered by existing JCVI advice.
HMG has accepted this advice and all four parts of the UK expect to follow the advice and align their deployment in each nation.
For children and young people, the risk of serious outcomes from covid-19 is much lower than for older people and we recognise that decisions on vaccination for this group are therefore much more finely balanced than for adults.
All 12 to 15-year-olds will now be offered a first dose of Pfizer-BNT162b2 vaccine. The JCVI will be asked to consider in due course whether a second dose is appropriate taking into account emerging international evidence. This is in addition to the existing offer of two doses of vaccine to 12 to 15 year-olds who are in ‘at-risk’ groups as described in Public Health England’s Green Book, last updated on 3 September 2021.
I am now updating the House on the liabilities HMG has taken on in relation to further vaccine deployment to this group via this statement and a Departmental Minute containing a description of the liability undertaken. The agreement to provide indemnity with deployment of further doses to the population increases the statutory contingent liability of the covid-19 vaccination programme for the vaccine the JCVI has recommended should be used in those aged under 18, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Deployment of effective vaccines to eligible groups has been and remains a key part of the Government’s strategy to manage covid-19. Willingness to accept the need for appropriate indemnities to be given to vaccine suppliers has helped to secure access to vaccines with the expected benefits to public health and the economy alike much sooner than may have been the case otherwise.
Given the exceptional circumstances we are in, and the terms on which developers have been willing to supply a covid-19 vaccine, we along with other nations have taken a broad approach to indemnification proportionate to the situation we are in.
Even though the covid-19 vaccines have been developed at pace, at no point and at no stage of development has safety been bypassed. The MHRA approval for use of the currently deployed vaccines clearly demonstrates that this vaccine has satisfied, in full, all the necessary requirements for safety, effectiveness, and quality. We are providing indemnities in the very unexpected event of any adverse reactions that could not have been foreseen through the robust checks and procedures that have been put in place.
Given the proximity between the announcement and deployment to this group, we regret that it has not been possible to provide 14 sitting days’ notice to consider these issues in advance of the planned vaccination of these groups in the UK.
I will update the House in a similar manner as and when other covid-19 vaccines or additional doses of vaccines already in use in the UK are deployed.
HM Treasury has approved the proposal.
A Departmental Minute will be laid in the House of Commons providing more detail on this contingent liability.