ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports on why it took the government so long to reach this decision
Children aged 12 to 15 in England will be offered one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine from next week, Sajid Javid announced.
On Tuesday, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales also confirmed they will offer a jab to people in the same age range.
Parental or guardian consent will be sought by vaccination healthcare staff before the children are given their jabs at school from next week, the government said.
But vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told the House of Commons children can overrule parents who do not want them to get the jab if they are deemed “competent”.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid announced the decision to vaccinate 12-15-year-olds: “I have accepted the recommendation from the chief medical officers to expand vaccination to those aged 12 to 15 - protecting young people from catching Covid-19, reducing transmission in schools and keeping pupils in the classroom.
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“I am very grateful for the expert advice I have received from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and UK chief medical officers.
“Our outstanding NHS stands ready to move forward with rolling out the vaccine to this group with the same sense of urgency we've had at every point in our vaccination programme.”
There will be alternative provision for those who are home-schooled or in specialist settings.
The announcement comes after the UK's four chief medical officers advised the government that all of the young teens should be offered the jab in order to reduce disruption in schools.
The government has not yet decided whether the age group will get a second dose, with Mr Zahawi saying said further Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) guidance is needed before any decision.
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Confirming the health secretary's announcement, Mr Zahawi told the Commons on Monday evening: “As with all vaccinations for children, parental consent will be sought. The consent process will be handled by each school in their usual way and will provide sufficient time for parents to provide their consent.
“Children aged 12 to 15 will also be provided with information usually in the form of a leaflet for their own use and to share and discuss with their parents prior to the date of the immunisation and that scheduled time for it.
“Parental, guardian or carer consent will be sought by the school age immunisation providers prior to vaccination in line with other school vaccination programmes.
“In the rare event that there is a situation a parent does not consent but the child or the teenager wants to have the vaccine, then there is a process by which the school age vaccination clinician will bring initially the parent and the child to see whether they can reach consensus and if not, if the child is deemed to be competent, then the vaccination will take place.”
The vaccines minister has said children will not be discriminated against based on whether or not they have a Covid vaccine, nor will their education depend on their vaccination status.
Mr Zahawi said: “There will be no question about discrimination in any way between a child that is vaccinated or unvaccinated. Vaccinations are voluntary and they will remain so.”
All 16- to 17-year-olds had been eligible to get their jabs since mid August. So far, more than half of those in the age group have come forward for their first jab.
Further announcements are expected from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mr Javid sought a second opinion from the chief medical officers after the JCVI said the health benefits of vaccinating the age group were too marginal to make a definitive decision.
The JCVI decided not to recommend mass vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds, but suggested that wider issues, such as education, should be taken into consideration and examined by the UK's chief medical officers.
The chief medical officers acknowledged vaccinating children had marginal health benefits but that was still better than no benefit.In their advice to the government, they 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 that they consider education “one of the most important drivers of improved public health and mental health”.