Many constituents have contacted me about the extension of COVID-19 vaccines to children and young people.
Across the UK, 92 million vaccines have been administered and most people over the age of 16 have now received two doses. I pay tribute to our NHS, primary and social care sector and all the volunteers involved in that effort. The vaccine programme has prevented over 112,000 deaths, more than 143,000 hospital admissions and 24 million infections.
While CV-19 infection is usually mild in younger people, it can seriously affect school attendance and children can still become very sick and develop ‘Long Covid’. Scientists have warned that emerging data about the number of children suffering in this way should not be ignored.
Earlier this year, the UK’s medicines regulator approved COVID-19 vaccines supplied by Pfizer and Moderna for 12 to 17-year-olds, confirming that both vaccines are safe and effective for this age group. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) subsequently recommended vaccination for all 16 and 17-year-olds and for 12 to 15-year-olds with serious underlying health conditions.
Recently, the four UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) consulted with clinical experts and public health professionals before recommending that a universal offer of one dose of the Pfizer vaccine should be made to all 12 to 15-year-olds. The CMOs recognised the importance of avoiding the disruption of being out of school in making this decision, alongside the wider mental health benefits this brings.
I welcome the CMOs’ guidance and I am pleased that the Government has accepted their recommendation. We know vaccines are safe and effective; they will benefit children and they will help to reduce transmission. Nevertheless, I understand that some people may have concerns. The Vaccines Minister confirmed that parental consent will be sought prior to vaccination, in line with other school vaccination programmes. I believe it is vital that the Government ensures parents have all the facts and information they need.
Hilary Benn MP