Covid: Older teens becoming 'seriously ill' led to 16 and 17 year olds being offered jabs

Older teenagers have been becoming “seriously ill” from coronavirus, a government scientific adviser has said, leading to an offer for all 16 and 17 year olds to be vaccinated.

Professor Adam Finn, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and is a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, said there had been “a couple” of 17-year-olds in that area who needed intensive care in hospital in recent weeks.

He said while most young people will only have the virus in a mild form, the vaccines will be effective at preventing serious cases.

He told BBC Breakfast: “We’re going cautiously down through the ages now into childhood and it was clear that the number of cases and the number of young people in the age group – 16, 17 – that were getting seriously ill merited going forward with giving them just a first dose.”

He said the JCVI would advise “when and what” the second dose for that age group would be after assessing more data.

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He added: “Most young people who get this virus get it mildly or even without any symptoms at all.

“But we are seeing cases in hospital even into this age group – we’ve had a couple of 17-year-olds here in Bristol admitted and needing intensive care over the course of the last four to six weeks – and so we are beginning to see a small number of serious cases.

“What we know for sure is that these vaccines are very effective at preventing those kind of serious cases from occurring.”

NHS England said nearly 16,000 people in the 16 to 17-year-old age group have already received their vaccine over the weekend, just days after JVCI guidance was updated.

Extending the jabs rollout further down to the 12 to 15-year-old age group has not been ruled out.

Credit: AP

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said he thinks doing so would be “a good thing”.

He told Times Radio the more unvaccinated people there are, the more lungs there are “for virus to percolate in, therefore it’s got to be a good thing to be vaccinating more children down through the age range”.

He said children who have the virus but do not have symptoms are “as dangerous to the spread as anybody else”.

He said: “From a medical scientific point of view, I’d say there’s nothing special about the virus in their lungs that can’t transmit through to their families, through to their schoolteachers, through to their colleagues.”

His comments came after Professor Sir Andrew Pollard said pupils who are not unwell should not have to isolate after being in contact with a Covid-19 case in the classroom.

Sir Andrew, who helped to create the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and is a professor of paediatric infection at the University of Oxford, said that as long as children who are contacts are not ill, they should continue to be in school getting their education.

He told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus on Tuesday: “Given that children have relatively mild infection compared to adults, apart from the exceptions who are largely going to be vaccinated in the current programme anyway, we probably should be moving to a situation where we’re clinically-driven.

“If someone is unwell, they should be tested, but for those contacts in the classroom, if they’re not unwell then it makes sense for them to be in school and being educated.”

From August 16, children under the age of 18 will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace as a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case.

Instead they will be informed they have been in close contact with a positive case and advised to take a PCR test.

Guidance issued at the end of term states that schools no longer need to perform contact tracing after being notified of a positive case.

Close contacts will now be identified through the Test and Trace programme.

Previously, children were required to isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble – which could be an entire year group – tested positive for Covid-19.