The government is reportedly determined to push ahead with COVID-19 vaccines for 12 to 15-year-olds, despite advisers recommending against it.
The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation said on Friday that, while it would widen the vaccination programme to include more children in that age group with health conditions, it was not recommending the widespread vaccination of their healthy classmates.
But reports in a number of national newspapers on Saturday said that government ministers, who will have the final say, are keen to offer vaccinations to all children in that age group.
They will draw on the advice of the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before “making a decision shortly”, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.
The Times reported that the vaccinations could begin as soon as next week.
Earlier on Friday, the JCVI had said that the coronavirus presents only a small risk to healthy children and, therefore, the benefit of being vaccinated was not great enough to support mass vaccination for this age group.
The independent medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, has approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for those aged 12 and over.
Efforts are already under way to recruit thousands of vaccinators for schools, and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has previously said he “very much hopes” the under-16s could be vaccinated.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of COVID-19 immunisation for the JCVI, said: “The JCVI’s view is that overall, the health benefits from COVID-19 vaccination to healthy children aged 12 to 15 years are marginally greater than the potential harms.
“Taking a precautionary approach, this margin of benefit is considered too small to support universal COVID-19 vaccination for this age group at this time. The committee will continue to review safety data as they emerge.”
Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann said he agrees the issue of a wider rollout “warrants further consideration”.
Wales’s Health Minister Eluned Morgan said she had asked the country’s chief medical officer to “provide guidance at the earliest opportunity on the clinical and wider health benefits of vaccinating this age group”.
Scotland’s Health Minister Humza Yousaf said he had asked for the review to be conducted “as soon as possible”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he is disappointed by the JCVI decision not to recommend jabs for all 12 to 15-year-olds.
He added that while they respect it, it could mean it is “more difficult during the autumn term and beyond to guard against educational disruption caused by transmission of the virus”.