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The government’s scientific advisers are coming under increasing pressure to approve Covid jabs for the over-12s after education secretary Gavin Williamson said he hoped a decision would be made “very, very soon”.
The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI), an independent group of medics and scientists, is currently deciding whether to approve vaccination for those aged 12-15.
But Williamson let slip ministers’ private frustration that the body had not updated its latest assessment on the risks and benefits of giving the vaccine to under 16s.
The cabinet minister told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme he hoped the JCVI would make a decision “very very soon”.
“Speaking personally, I think parents would find it incredibly reassuring to know that they’ve got a choice as to whether their children are able to have a vaccine or not.”
He also told BBC Breakfast: “We obviously wait for the decision of JCVI. Probably a lot of us are very keen to hear that and very much hope that we’re in a position of being able to roll out vaccinations for those who are under the age of 16.
“I would certainly be hoping that it is a decision that will be made very, very soon.”
He said he could not give a timeline for when the decision is expected because the JCVI is a “completely independent committee”, adding: “They’re not there to take instructions from the government.”
“They will reach a decision, I’m told and I understand, very, very soon,” he said.
However, he warned that the return of schools could lead to a spike in cases, as has already been seen in Scotland, where the summer holidays have drawn to a close.
“This is why we’re doing the testing programme and we’re encouraging children to take part in it, parents, and of course teachers and support staff as well,” he told Sky News.
“This is a way of rooting out Covid.
“We’re trying to strike that constant, sensible balance of actually giving children as normal experience in the classroom as possible, but also recognising we’re still dealing with a global pandemic.”
Williamson told the BBC he hoped there would be “minimal disruption” for children in England as they head back to school this week, with much resting on the continuing rollout of the vaccine.
So far 88.5% of those aged 16 and above have received the first dose of their coronavirus vaccine in the UK, while 78.9% have received their second dose.
In Scotland, where schools have already returned from the summer holidays, there has been a notable spike in cases.
Williamson urged parents to encourage their children to get tested twice weekly at home as well as on site in a bid to minimise disruption.
He also did not rule out that other mitigating measures such as outdoor assemblies could be used to curb the spread of the virus – but said it was “not something that we’d be expecting to see an awful lot of, especially in autumn and winter”.
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