Derry MP welcomes move towards vaccinating 12-15 year olds in Northern Ireland
Foyle MP, SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood has welcomed the recommendation that children aged 12 to 15 should be offered one dose of a Covid vaccine.
The recommendation was announced by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers on Monday, but will have to be approved by ministers.
An imminent announcement on whether to give the go ahead is now expected from Health Minister Robin Swann.
The Four Chief Medical Officers from the north of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales wrote to the UK Health Secretary in a letter published by the government yesterday: “On balance however, UK CMOs judge that it is likely vaccination will help reduce transmission of COVID-19 in schools which are attended by children and young people aged 12 to 15 years.
“COVID-19 is a disease which can be very effectively transmitted by mass spreading events, especially with Delta variant. Having a significant proportion of pupils vaccinated is likely to reduce the probability of such events which are likely to cause local outbreaks in, or associated with, schools.
“They will also reduce the chance an individual child gets COVID-19. This means vaccination is likely to reduce (but not eliminate) education disruption.”
Mr Eastwood said: “I welcome today’s recommendation from the Chief Medical Officers that healthy children aged 12 to 15 should be able to receive one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. We continue to see large numbers of new cases of the virus and sadly deaths reported in the North every day and the knock-on effect that has on our health service who were putting out distress calls for help at the weekend.
“Anything that protects our young people and helps stop the spread of the virus will have huge benefits for society. It is hoped offering a young people a vaccine dose will cut down on transmission of the virus of schools and the number of days our young people miss. We have seen the recent chaos in schools caused by the virus and these vaccines could make a real difference.
“Our young people have made huge sacrifices throughout the pandemic with many forced to miss large periods of school and spend time isolated away from their friendship groups. Hopefully this recommendation will be the next step as we strive to return to normality for our young people and society as a whole.”
Robin Swann and Health Ministers from Scotland, England and Wales earlier this month asked the UK Chief Medical Officers to advise on vaccinating people aged 12 to 15
The UK government alongside the Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly have confirmed had sought further advice from the four Chief Medical Officers on the COVID-19 vaccination of young people aged 12 to 15 with COVID-19 vaccines, following the advice of the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The JCVI has advised that the health benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms. It advised the government to seek further input from the Chief Medical Officers on the wider impacts.
This includes the impact on schools and young people’s education, which has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
The group of health ministers from across the four nations wrote to the Chief Medical Officers to request they begin the process of assessing the broader impact of universal COVID-19 vaccination in this age group.
People aged 12 to 15 who are clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 or who live with adults who are at increased risk of serious illness from the virus are already eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and are being contacted by the NHS, to be invited to come forward. The JCVI has advised that this offer should be expanded to include more children aged 12 to 15, for example those with sickle cell disease or type 1 diabetes.
The Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, had asked the NHS to put preparations in place to roll out vaccinations to all 12 to 15 year olds, should it be recommended by the Chief Medical Officers.
If this group is offered the vaccine, parental or carer consent will be sought, just as with other school immunisation programmes.
The vaccination programme has so far seen over 48 million people over the age of 16 across Britain and the north - including over 48 million first doses and over 43 million second doses.
Meanwhile a major Jabbathon initiative is under way in the north to get students at universities and further education colleges vaccinated.