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UK to rollout COVID-19 vaccines to 16 and 17 year olds

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The U.K. is to offer coronavirus vaccines to 16 and 17-year-olds after the independent body of scientists that makes recommendations over the rollout changed its advice

The change, which means another 1.4 million people across the U.K. will be eligible for a first dose of vaccine, comes just two weeks after the JCVI recommended against routine vaccination of anyone under the age of 18 though did stress that it would continually assess the evidence.

Currently, the only 16 and 17-year-olds being offered the Pfizer vaccine, which has been approved by Britain’s medical regulator for use for anyone aged 12 and over, are those with underlying health conditions or those living with vulnerable people.

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The timeline for when they will get their second dose has yet to be determined but further recommendations based on the evidence of how the response to the first dose has been will emerge in coming weeks.

“While COVID-19 is typically mild or asymptomatic in most young people, it can be very unpleasant for some and for this particular age group, we expect one dose of the vaccine to provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalization,” said Professor Wei Shen Lim, who chairs the JCVI’s COVID-19 program.

While the British rollout of vaccines has been one of the world’s fastest, with 73% of the adult population fully vaccinated, it has been fairly tardy in offering jabs to youths. There have been growing calls for the vaccination drive to be expanded following a spike in infections this summer as a result of the spread of the more transmissible delta variant and the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

Despite Wednesday’s change, the U.K. still lags many other European countries such as France and Germany, which are offering vaccines to children aged 12 and over.

The JCVI said it will continue to keep its position under review on vaccinating under-16s without underlying health conditions or those not living with people who are immunocompromised.

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Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said there was “no time to waste” and that he expects the rollout to start in “a very short number of weeks.”

Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s chair, said there had been feedback from young people who want to have the choice to get a coronavirus vaccine.

“So, they’d like to be offered the vaccine, understand the risks and potential benefits, and therefore make a choice for themselves whether they want to have it or not,” he said.

The expanded rollout comes amid evidence that the vaccination drive among younger adults has slowed down in recent weeks, a trend that’s prompted the British government to offer incentives, such as discounts and even free slices of pizza to persuade young people to roll up their sleeves and get the shot.

There are many younger people who have opted against getting a jab because the evidence is clear that they are much less likely to get anything more than mild symptoms of COVID-19.

“I would just urge all families thinking about this across the country to listen to the JCVI,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said while on a visit to Scotland.

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