As the UK vaccination programme opens up to anyone aged 36 years old or older, health secretary Matt Hancock has said that children in the UK could get the vaccine by summer, as ministers look for ways to increase the vaccine uptake as the Indian variant continues to spread.
The Independent reports that Mr Hancock has said that the government has secured enough doses of the Pfizer vaccine to ensure all UK teenagers are covered, once the UK’s medical regulators decide that the jab is safe for under-16s.
This will allow schoolchildren to get their first dose of the vaccine before the start of the new school term in September.
However, the health secretary told MPs that any rollout of the vaccination programme for children would not begin any sooner than July, once all adults had been offered their first jab, and the majority had had their second.
When asked what plans were in place to reduce age limits for vaccinations, Mr Hancock told MPs: “We have procured enough Pfizer to be able to offer it to children should it be approved here… We have a couple of months before we need to make and operationalise a decision, and we need to be very careful and sensitive about whether and how to offer it to children.”
At the moment, the Pfizer jab is only approved in the UK for people aged 16 or over, and the other two vaccines - Moderna and AstraZeneca - are only approved for over 18s. US regulators have approved the Pfizer jab for children aged 12 and over.
As of Monday, anyone in England aged at least 36 can book a vaccination online. 37-year-olds should get a text message inviting them to book in on Tuesday, with texts going out to 36-year-olds on Wednesday.
Under-30s in Wales are already being vaccinated as the devolved country’s vaccine rollout is ahead of the rest of the UK. Approximately 80 per cent of Welsh adults have had at least one dose, compared to 70 per cent of adults in the UK as a whole.
Mr Hancock claims the spread of the Indian strain of coronavirus, which has mostly infected unvaccinated people, shows the importance of eligible adults taking up the offer of a jab as soon as possible.
Ministers are understood to be worried that in a worst-case scenario, any reduction in uptake could delay the end of lockdown.
Mr Hancock said: “To anyone who feels hesitant about getting the vaccine right across the country, just look at what is happening in Bolton Hospital where the majority of people in hospital with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but have chosen not yet to have the jab and have ended up in hospital – some of them in intensive care.
However, Mr Hancock insisted the Government would focus on a ‘positive’ message, working with celebrities and community leaders to convince individuals of the benefit of getting protected against Covid-19.
He told MPs: “One of the reasons that we’ve been able to take on the anti-vaxxers so effectively is because we haven’t danced to their tune.”
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