Exclusive: Children being given vaccine as councils ‘go rogue’

Children are being vaccinated against Covid before an official decision on whether youngsters should be given the jab, The Telegraph can disclose.

Councils and GPs in virus hotspots are defying current government rules by giving the vaccine to 16 and 17-year-olds without underlying health conditions.

On Friday, Rochdale Borough Council invited "anyone aged 16 and over" to have a first dose of the Pfizer jab without the need for an appointment. Another drive-through clinic for teenagers is due to take place in the town on Saturday.

On Friday night, a spokesman for the council and local NHS clinical commissioning group said a "multi-agency decision" had been taken to expand the criteria to 16 and 17-year-olds because Rochdale was "again in a desperate race to stay ahead of the virus".

The spokesman said: "Our borough is one of the areas of the country worst affected by coronavirus and our infection rate is now approaching that seen in Bolton a few weeks ago. Among our younger age groups, the rate is almost 1,000 cases per 100,000 people.

"Many 16 and 17-year-olds with underlying health conditions have already been vaccinated but many other younger adults who are at risk for different reasons are falling outside national protocols.

"On that basis, and to avoid any vaccine wastage, a multi-agency decision was taken with clinical leads to temporarily expand the qualifying criteria for at-risk 16 and 17-year-olds for our clinics this weekend, but following discussions we have now revised our plans."

Where is the Indian (Delta) variant in the UK?

GPs in west London and other parts of the country have also given the vaccine to healthy under-18s in recent weeks, it is understood.

A senior NHS source said on Friday that action would be taken against GPs and local authorities who "go rogue" by ignoring national guidelines.

"We have always been clear that the NHS vaccinates in line with guidance [from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] and that local health teams are expected to follow this guidance, too," the source said.

Under the current guidance set out by the JCVI, 16 and 17-year-olds are not eligible for a Covid vaccine unless they are classified as vulnerable.

Yet in a leaflet seen by The Telegraph, Rochdale Borough Council invited thousands of under-18s to come forward for their first Pfizer jab. It said: "If you’re aged 16 or over and have not got an existing appointment, please drop into one of the extra vaccine clinics."

In an accompanying video posted online, Dr Mo Jiva, the chief executive officer of the Rochdale and Bury Local Medical Committee, invited anyone aged 16 or above to "come down and receive their first or second vaccine" at a drive-through clinic in a gym car park. "We hope to see you tomorrow," Dr Jiva said.

A decision on whether Covid vaccines should be offered to youngsters is due in the coming weeks, although the JCVI is understood to want more time to study data from the US on possible side-effects.

Options under consideration include offering jabs to those aged 16 and 17 although some JCVI members have raised concerns, with one arguing this week that the "risk/benefit for teenagers must be firmly established" before any final decisions are taken.

Others have raised ethical questions over whether jabs should be given to British children before older people in other countries with lower vaccination rates.

Prof Adam Finn, who sits on the JCVI, criticised local authorities and GPs for ignoring national guidelines and offering jabs to under-18s, saying: "If you don’t follow the national rules, then the whole thing begins to become very confusing and difficult to keep control of."

Rochdale is battling a surge in cases of the Indian or delta Covid variant, with a total of 787 cases in the week ending June 27 – a rise of 39 per cent on the previous week. The most recent virus infection rate in the town is now 353.8 cases per 100,000 people.

However, Andrea Fallon, the public health director for Rochdale, said last month that numbers in hospital were continuing to fall and there had not been a Covid death in the borough for three weeks.

Nationally, infection rates for 10 to 19-year-olds were the second highest in England for the week ending 20 June, more than 17 times higher than for the over-70s.

Last month, the UK medical regulator declared the Pfizer jab safe for over-12s and, according to a recent ONS poll, the majority of secondary school parents want their children to be vaccinated.

A source at Rochdale Borough Council said the move to vaccinate under-18s was a "clinical decision".

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