Covid: 'Perfectly possible' coronavirus vaccine licensed for children by end of year, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam says

Watch our full vaccine Q&A with Professor Jonathan Van-Tam

It is "perfectly possible" that a Covid-19 vaccine could be licensed for children by the end of the year, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has told ITV News.

While the government has said it hopes to offer all UK adults at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by September, no date has yet been given for when children could be vaccinated.

In a Q&A session with ITV News answering a range of viewers' questions, England's deputy chief medical officer explained that currently clinically extremely vulnerable children "can be considered for vaccination" but this is an "individual decision" as no coronavirus jab has yet been approved for use in under-18s.

However, Prof Van-Tam said he believes that "most of the major manufacturers are beginning to turn their attention" to licensing vaccines for under-18s and that he knows of "several that are now underway that are looking at the teenage group", meaning it is "perfectly possible" there could be a vaccine for children by the end of the year.

Here are some of the other areas Prof Van-Tam covered in our Q&A:

Concerns over the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab

The scientist also said that only two people who have had the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine have been hospitalised and that in both of these cases there had not been enough time for the jabs to become effective.

Prof Van-Tam was responding to a question from a viewer about concerns over a lack of protection given by the vaccine.

Data suggests the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has up to 62% efficacy in preventing Covid, but concerns have been raised South Africa has put its rollout of the jab on hold after a study showed "disappointing" results against its new Covid variant.

However, Prof Van-Tam cautioned that only "really low" numbers of the South African variant have been detected in the UK - less than 200 cases and at a government coronavirus update on Monday, the scientist said he was "not remotely concerned" the variant would become the dominant one in the UK.

He added that people should not be "remotely concerned" if they have had the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab and that he was aware of only two people who had been hospitalised with coronavirus after receiving the vaccine.

He continued that these people were hospitalised two and 10 days after receiving their first doses of the jab, meaning their bodies had not have time to produce a "meaningful" amount of antibodies to fight off the virus.

When questioned further about vaccines, Prof Van-Tam said he believed "re-vaccination programmes" would take place in the future to provide immunity against any Covid mutations.

Scientists have previously said this could be similar to the yearly flu vaccine and this was confirmed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday.

One such mutation is the Bristol variant which has been designated a "variant of concern" by the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).

However, Prof Van-Tam said that there have only been 21 confirmed cases of this variant which is a "tiny" number and it was "far too early" to make any conclusions about it.

  • Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke

'Covid vaccines do not affect women's fertility'

The 57-year-old also hit out at vaccine misinformation, including a rumour than Covid jabs can affect women's fertility.

Prof Van-Tam slammed the suggestion as "wholesale nonsense" which left him "disappointed and dismayed".

He continued: "It's such an emotive subject and it frightens so many people but it's totally and utterly groundless".

Vaccine mistrust

Prof Van-Tam was also asked about the reluctance of some to get vaccinated, with rates of mistrust higher amongst people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

One recent study found that almost three in four black Britons do not want to be vaccinated.

However, Prof Van-Tam urged everyone to accept the vaccine when offered it.

"This virus does not care what community you're from, what your ethnicity is, what your skin colour is," he said.

"It just recognises you're a wonderful human being with no immunity to Covid-19 and you're ripe to infect and make ill; that's how the virus frames things."

Despite the concerns of some, Prof Van-Tam pointed to reassuring levels of vaccine uptake across the community as a whole.

He said that 93% of people in their 80s who had been offered a vaccine had acceoted it and this number was even higher in the over-75 age bracket.

He said these were "incredible numbers never seen before" and were higher than the figures for flu vaccine uptake.

'Too early to say if vaccines mean lockdown can be eased early'

Prof Van-Tam was also asked about reports in The Sun newspaper which suggested that one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine offers two-thirds protection against Covid-19, meaning lockdown could soon be eased.

The scientists said he would not comment "on leaked data" and urged "caution about how "you interpret something a journalist has interpreted and put in the paper".

However, Prof Van-Tam said he expected to see "some proper signals" from Public Health England in the coming weeks and that just one dose of either of the Covid jabs offers "really substantial protection".

This, he said was why the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has "gone down the priority first dose route and that's why we protect more people in the shortest amount of time and we save time".

He added that he believed the longer the amount of time between first and second doses, the better the body's immune response would become.

  • ITV News Science Editor on WHO recommending the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine for all adults

Why lockdown is like parking a car on a hill

The interview was not without one of Prof Van-Tam's famous analogies, this time explaining why lockdown restrictions need to remain in place despite the widespread rollout of the vaccine.

As of the end of Monday, 12.65 million UK adults have had at least one dose of the Covid vaccine.

"It's like being on a hill in a car, it's a very steep hill, your foot on the foot brake and your hand on the handbrake," he explained.

"Until you know the handbrake is biting" you don't "whip" your foot off.

"Vaccines are the handbrake and restrictions are the footbrake.

"I don't want to take my foot off the footbrake until I know the handbrake is holding."

Why are so many people still catching Covid?

With a tough lockdown in force across the UK for several weeks now, Prof Van-Tam was also asked why thousands of people are still contracting Covid each day.

On Tuesday, a further 12,634 coronavirus cases were recorded.

Prof Van-Tam explained that this was because many interactions are still taking place, with many people across the country still having to go to work and transmission of the virus taking place within households.

"The way to stop infections altogether is to see absolutely nobody," he explained, adding: "The only way you can get down to zero infections is to live as a hermit."

He also said that data due back in the next few weeks would allow scientists to make a "guesstimate of how quickly" and "how safely" restrictions can be eased to allow life to get back to more of a normality.

Viewers also asked about Prof Van-Tam's mother who was vaccinated two weeks ago.

He said the 79-year-old was doing "great".

And following much speculation the scientist was asked whether he might be appearing in the next season of Strictly Come Dancing.

Prof Van-Tam said that while he did not want to "spoil the bookmakers' books... I think it would be rather like watching Jumbo on ice".

You can listen to the full Q&A with Jonathan Van-Tam on our podcast Coronavirus: What You Need To Know, below: