Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has confirmed the Government has accepted the recommendation for children aged 12 to 15 in England to be offered their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
“We will now move with the same sense of urgency we’ve had at every point in our vaccination programme,” he told MPs in the House of Commons.
It follows advice from the UK’s chief medical officers, who say the jab will help reduce disruption to education.
Invitations for the vaccine will begin in England next week, the government said.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to confirm plans.
Mr Zahawi told MPs: “We know vaccinations are our best defence against this virus. Our jabs have already prevented over 112,000 deaths, more than 143,000 hospitalisations and over 24 million infections.
“They have built a vast wall of defence for the British people.”
He went on to recap the “unanimous” recommendation from the UK’s chief medical officers to offer children aged 12 to 15 one jab of the Pfizer vaccine.
Mr Zahawi said further Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) guidance is needed before any decision on a second dose.
The move comes after the chief medical officers of the four UK nations advised younger teenagers should be offered the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
The decision takes into account the “extremely powerful” evidence on the impact of the pandemic on children’s education, as well as the risks to their mental health from missing school.
At a Downing Street press conference, Professor Wei Shen Lim, from the JCVI, said there was “no conflict” between the advice provided by the JCVI and that from the CMOs, adding that the JCVI had looked at jabs from a health perspective.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said it had been a “difficult decision” regarding vaccinating children but CMOs would not be recommending the jabs “unless we felt that benefit exceeded risk”.
He added: “In a sense, what we’re not trying to do is say to children ‘you must, must, must, must, must’ but what we’re saying is that we think on balance the benefits both at an individual level and in terms of wider indirect benefits to education and through that to public health are in favour, otherwise we would not be making this recommendation.”
He agreed that the CMO advice was “not in conflict” with that from the JCVI, saying it was “very much in line” with it but had also looked at issues such as education. He added there were “no plans at the moment” to look at vaccinating under-12s.
In their advice to the Government, the UK’s CMOs said they were recommending vaccines on “public health grounds” and it was “likely vaccination will help reduce transmission of Covid-19 in schools”.
They added: “Covid-19 is a disease which can be very effectively transmitted by mass spreading events, especially with Delta variant.
“Having a significant proportion of pupils vaccinated is likely to reduce the probability of such events which are likely to cause local outbreaks in, or associated with, schools.
“They will also reduce the chance an individual child gets Covid-19. This means vaccination is likely to reduce (but not eliminate) education disruption.”
The CMOs have asked for the JCVI now to look at whether second doses should be given to children and young people aged 12 to 15 once more data comes through internationally.