Children aged between 12 and 15 look set to start getting Covid-19 vaccines as early as next week, though they may only need a single jab to ensure protection.
A decision from the chief medical officers of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is expected within days, with widespread expectation within Whitehall of a green light.
The autumn booster programme, which will see some adults receive a third Covid jab to increase their immunity, is also expected to be formally approved this week.
How widespread that drive will be remains to be decided, however, with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation [JCVI] expected to meet on Monday to finalise their advice.
Both moves – how widely to vaccinate children and how many adults should be given a third dose – have remained debating points both inside the Government and across the country.
Government ministers have long argued that the Covid vaccines are the UK’s path out of the pandemic and will this week spell out their approach for the autumn and winter.
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Children aged 16 and 17 are already receiving vaccinations but the JCVI declined to approve widespread jabs for those aged 12, 13, 14 and 15.
Instead they said that chief medical officers in the four UK nations should consider the wider risks and benefits and make a decision, which is expected to be given this week.
Sajid Javid said on Sunday during an interview on the BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that jabs for 12- to 15-year-olds were ready to be given within a week of that decision being made.
“I think it’s been sensible to ask the education system, the schools vaccination service, to plan for that,” Mr Javid said, explaining his reason for preparing for an approval.
“They’ve been planning for it throughout the summer just in case we get that advice so we can hit the go button without any further delay.”
In a separate interview with Times Radio, Mr Javid said children aged 12 to 15 may only need a single dose of Covid vaccine if approval comes, rather than two doses for adults.
Booster programme debate remains
On the autumn booster programme, there remains debate within the JCVI about whether it should be offered widely to adults or only to those more at risk from Covid.
Mr Javid said he expects the programme to start this month, telling Sky News: "There is evidence of waning immunity, particularly in older people, more vulnerable people. And we are already taking action on that.
"So for example just a week ago I announced that those people that are immuno-suppressed that they should get a third jab as part of their primary treatment. That has already started.
"And in terms of a general booster programme, we have asked the JCVI to look into this. They gave me interim advice a month or so ago where they supported this, but they said they wanted to do some further work. We have given them the time to do that work.
"But I believe we will be able to start our booster programme, subject to their final advice, on schedule this month."
He added that under the existing plan those aged 16 and 17 are already due to get only one dose.
Just a single dose could cut the risk of catching Covid by a half, according to Public Health England analysis, and frees up other doses to be given to poorer countries.
The Adam Smith Institute (ASI) warned that 2.1 million people in the UK “vulnerable” to Covid-19 were still entirely unvaccinated and 600,000 more are yet to have their second dose.
In a new paper, the ASI called for the Government to “redouble efforts” to vaccinate the most vulnerable who are yet to be jabbed, including with mobile vaccinations units and home visits.
Matthew Lesh, ASI Head of Research and the report’s co-author, said: The Government has taken their eyes off the ball when it comes to boosters, procuring new treatments and next-generation vaccine technology. It’s incumbent upon our political leaders to take every step they can to avoid demands for new restrictions.”