Officials are preparing for a roll-out of the Pfizer jab in schools at the start of the next academic year, after the MHRA, the UK medicines regulator, approved the use of the Pfizer Covid vaccine in 12- 15-year-olds. The move would mirror the way in which BCG injections were previously given to schoolchildren en masse.
But, if the decision is taken to vaccinate under-16s in the coming weeks, senior government figures say they expect to be ready to begin rolling out jabs to 12- 15-year-olds from August.
Mr Hancock states: “The Delta variant, first identified in India, is more transmissible and now makes up the majority of new Covid cases in this country. So the mission for the weeks and months ahead is to stay ahead in the race between virus and vaccine.
“We have to show the same spirit that has taken us this far and keep doing our bit. That means keeping up the basics – like hands, face, space and fresh air – and getting regular tests.
“A huge proportion of the latest cases are in children, so it’s especially important all secondary school age children take a test today before going back from half term tomorrow, and isolate if positive – to stop the spread and protect the education of their peers.
“And of course it’s critical we keep coming forward for our jabs when it’s our turn, including that vital second jab which we now know gives better protection against the Delta variant.”
Children aged 10 and over, and teenagers, are responsible for more than a quarter of recent Covid cases – the highest among all age groups, according to Public Health England data released earlier this week.
On Saturday, Professor Anthony Harnden, the JCVI’s deputy chairman, suggested that vaccinating under-16s might primarily benefit wider society, rather than the teenagers and children themselves.
“In terms of being to their benefit, it’s either a health benefit or an educational benefit”, he told The Telegraph.
“That will be weighed up against the possibility of children transmitting to adults to protect other adults by immunising children, but the trouble with that is an ethical question about safety.”
On Saturday night Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, joined Mr Hancock’s call for children to get tested before returning to school after the half term break.
“Asymptomatic testing helps break chains of transmission by taking people who are infectious but don’t know it out of circulation”, Mr Williamson said.
“As the half term comes to an end, take a covid test before going back to the classroom.”
In other developments, there was growing pessimism in Whitehall over whether social distancing restrictions will be lifted on June 21, with ministers awaiting further data on hospitalisations caused by the Indian (or Delta) variant of Covid. Tony Blair called for vaccinated people to be released from lockdown restrictions and said businesses should have the right to only admit jabbed customers.
Thousands of University College London students were left disappointed on Saturday after supplies ran out halfway through a four-hour vaccination clinic which had been declared open to all students.