Thank you for emailing me about children and the coronavirus vaccines.
The likelihood of children having significant detriment if they catch coronavirus is thankfully very low. The AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines are still only approved for use for people aged 18 and over, however the Pfizer vaccine is approved for use for people aged 12 and over.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has carefully reviewed clinical trial data in children aged 12 to 15 years and has concluded that the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective in this age group and that the benefits of this vaccine outweigh any risk. I can reassure you that no extension to an authorisation would be approved unless the expected standards of safety, quality, and effectiveness have been met.
Following Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advice and careful assessment of safety data from the UK and other countries, 16- and 17-year-olds will now be offered a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Pending further advice on effectiveness and safety in this age group, a second vaccine dose is anticipated to be offered after approximately 12 weeks. The adult vaccine programme has progressed very successfully and more safety data has become available, so it was important to review the advice for the vaccination of children and young people.
Additionally, children at increased risk of serious infection, including children aged 12 to 15 with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities are eligible for vaccination. Children and young people aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person are also eligible. Young people aged 16 to 17 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious infection should have already been offered vaccination. These groups will be offered a second dose after 8 weeks.
The JCVI issued a statement alongside the televised briefing, which you can find here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/jcvi-statement-august-2021-covid-19-vaccination-of-children-and-young-people-aged-12-to-17-years/jcvi-statement-on-covid-19-vaccination-of-children-and-young-people-aged-12-to-17-years-4-august-2021#benefits-of-vaccination.
The UK operates a system of informed consent for vaccinations, meaning as much information as possible about vaccines is provided to individuals, who must then consent for themselves to receive the dose. Except in exceptional circumstances, no vaccine in this country is compulsory: you are right that it is up to an individual whether to receive a vaccine. That being said, the coronavirus vaccines are saving lives and are clearly effective in reducing deaths and hospitalisations. If you need any more information about vaccination, I would recommend visiting the NHS website here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/coronavirus-vaccine.
Thank you again for contacting me.