This afternoon, the JCVI has essentially passed the buck on vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds. It has declared that the health benefits of a vaccine for this age group are ‘marginally greater’ than the risks of Covid. But it has left the decision on whether to actually vaccinate them to the chief medical officers.
In the past few weeks, tensions between ministers and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation have been rising. Ministers are keen to get on with an autumn booster shots campaign for the elderly and to vaccinate more school children. Yet the JCVI has only approved boosters for those with weaker immune systems. In terms of children, it has only backed jabs for 16- and 17-year-olds, leading to concern in Whitehall about how few school children have been vaccinated. A source involved in the government’s planning for the return to schools says they expected that they would have got further down the age groups by now. Ministers are becoming increasingly envious of countries which are vaccinating everyone over the age of 12.
Sajid Javid and the devolved Health Secretaries have now written to the chief medical officers asking them ‘to consider the matter’ and to give advice as soon as possible. The phrasing of the letter indicates that they would like the verdict to back vaccinating over-12s.
But the JCVI’s reluctance to recommend a full immunisation programme for 12- to 15-year-olds is going to leave parents with questions. It would surely have been better for the committee to have made a decision one way or the other. The half-way house they have come up with risks confusing parents and undermining public health messages about the safety of the vaccines.