Teenagers aged 16 and 17 are being encouraged to come forward for a second dose of coronavirus vaccine as officials said they are “more and more reassured” about the safety of jabs in children.
A second vaccine dose should be given at least 12 weeks after a first one, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said as it announced its recommendation for all those in this age group to be offered another jab.
Initially, advice offered in early August saw a recommendation that healthy 16 to 17-year-olds should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and officials said advice on when to offer the second dose would come later.
We are expanding the #COVID19 vaccination programme following updated advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
▶️ 40-49 year-olds will be offered a booster dose
▶️ 16-17 year-olds will be offered a second dose
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) November 15, 2021
On Monday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he had accepted JCVI advice to offer a second dose of a vaccine to all young people in this age group as part of the primary vaccination schedule, with all four UK nations intending to follow the advice.
JCVI chairman Professor Wei Shen Lim said there might have been “some reluctance to have a first dose of vaccine in 16 to 17-year-olds because of concerns around safety”, but added that data available shows that “it is looking much safer than was feared initially”.
The committee said the latest available information indicates that inflammation of the heart, known as myocarditis, after vaccination usually passes within a short time, with most cases responding well to treatment and no major complications identified.
Prof Lim told a televised Downing Street briefing: “So my message to people is that we are more confident about the safety of doses in 16 to 17 year-olds, and we’re more confident about the benefits to 16 and 17 year-olds.
“So I would urge any 16 to 17 year-old who hasn’t had any vaccine dose to certainly consider having at least a first dose, and in due course, think about also having the second dose.”
The JCVI said reports from outside the UK showed extremely rare adverse reactions like myocarditis have been reported more frequently after the second jab compared to the first.
But they added that in the UK, where a longer gap is advised between doses, reaction rates after a second jab are closer to the reporting rate after the first dose.
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), urged teenagers to come forward for a second jab.
She told the briefing: “As the data have accrued, we’ve become more and more reassured that the safety picture in young people and children, teenagers is just what we’ve seen in the older population and no difference in terms of the small, very small risk of heart inflammation between the first dose and the second dose.
“So our message today is definitely come forward for your second dose.”
The deputy chief medical officer for England, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said having a jab is not “something to fret about” but added that parents and eligible children should be allowed time to decide.
He said: “I think it just becomes clearer over time that everybody is more confident in the value of vaccination and in the very reassuring safety data that MHRA continue to look at on a daily basis.
“Parents and children must decide for themselves and we should allow them the time and the space and give them the highest quality information so that they can make those decisions in their own time.”
Those aged 16 or 17 and in “at-risk” groups when it comes to the effects of coronavirus, had already been eligible for two doses of a vaccine.
Dr Simon Williams, senior lecturer in people and organisation at Swansea University, said the second jab advice could help towards a safer Christmas as families, including children and grandparents, reunite.
He said: “With many young people understandably wanting to see their grandparents or other potentially higher-risk people over Christmas, a quick and effective rollout to these groups will definitely help contribute to a safer Christmas – along with all the other basics about minimising indoor contacts, wearing masks where appropriate and ensuring adequate ventilation by opening the windows at least once per hour for 10 minutes.”