As a result — and to the frustration of government ministers — Britain has lagged behind some other countries, including the United States, in vaccinating those between the ages of 12 and 15.
The authorizations announced on Monday were presented largely as intended to minimize the disruption caused by outbreaks in schools. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said school closings and remote learning had been “extraordinarily difficult for children and had a big impact on health,” including mental health. He acknowledged, however, that the decision to vaccinate children was a closer call than for older people.
The debate over extending vaccines to 12- to 15-year-olds exposed divisions within Britain’s medical and scientific community. Earlier this month, Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said that those in the age group would get only marginal benefits from a mass vaccination campaign. It noted concerns over a rare side effect of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that has occasionally caused heart inflammations and led to palpitations and chest pains.
“The margin of benefit, based primarily on a health perspective, is considered too small to support advice on a universal program of vaccination of otherwise healthy 12- to 15-year-old children at this time,” the committee concluded.
However, the health ministers of the four U.K. nations reacted by seeking advice from their chief medical officers that took into account “educational impacts” as well as health concerns.