JCVI ‘largely opposed’ to Covid vaccination for children under 16

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Members of the government’s expert committee on vaccination remain largely opposed to extending Covid jabs to younger teenagers, despite politicians having signalled they would like to see a shift in the guidance, the Guardian has been told.

Several members of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the mainstream sentiment on the body is still extremely cautious about expanding the programme to 12- to 15-year-olds, even though a deputy chief medical officer has suggested that outcome is high probable and politicians have said they would like the issue to remain under review.

The JCVI recommended on Wednesday that all over-16s be offered jabs, just two weeks after saying children should not routinely be given Covid vaccinations. The U-turn provoked alarm at what was described as a “shambolic” vaccine rollout for older teenagers, with doctors saying they were being “left in the dark” about the details of the rollout to younger people.

The JCVI has moved to “refresh” the membership of its Covid subcommittee in recent weeks, with one prominent critic of Covid jabs for children, Prof Robert Dingwall, leaving the body.

Dingwall and others on the committee said his views were not the reason for the shake-up, and that sentiment on the body is still that the risks outweigh the benefits for 12- to 15-year-olds. Three other members – Prof Lucy Yardley, Prof Liz Miller and Prof Bryan Charleston – also left at a similar time.

Jonathan Van-Tam, a deputy chief medical officer, has said it was “more likely than less likely” that the list of eligible children would be broadened.

However, one expert who remains a member of the JCVI said the overriding opinion of the body was still against expanding vaccinations to 12- to 15-year-olds and argued that the committee was more likely to recommend removing categories of vulnerable children who are currently offered vaccines.

Committee members said they had not felt political pressure to change their views when it came to changing its advice on 16- and 17-year-olds. However, two members on the committee said there had been a fear that Scotland could go its own way on vaccinating older teenagers, even though the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has consistently said her government will follow JCVI advice.

Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, told the Guardian that his leaving the JCVI subcommittee on Covid was nothing to do with his views about vaccinating teenagers. “People are seeing a conspiracy where none exists. This is something that has been prefigured for several weeks and it’s entirely coincidental that it happens to be at the same time as the review on vaccination for 16- and 17-year-olds.

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“I am being portrayed as some kind of lone voice critic of vaccination for [teenagers] but at no point have my views been any different from the broad consensus on JCVI. This idea I’ve been a single roadblock is just nonsense,” he said. “I don’t feel that my absence is a great loss to JCVI and I have every respect for the integrity of colleagues.”

His departure was reported by the Spectator on Thursday and sparked outrage in some quarters of social media, but Dingwall said his departure was to do with pulling more work back into the main JCVI committee.

Dingwall was co-opted to the JCVI’s Covid-19 committee from the chief medical officer’s Moral and Ethical Advisory Group, of which he remains a member.

He has previously expressed scepticism about vaccinating children, saying they were at “low risk for Covid” and suggested they might have been better protected by simply catching the virus. He has also written previously in favour of lifting Covid restrictions once the population is mostly vaccinated.

A JCVI spokesperson said: ‘The JCVI is a group of independent experts who discuss the latest available evidence to reach decisions on how to best use Covid-19 vaccines to protect the public. The main JCVI committee has provided all advice and recommendations to ministers on Covid-19 vaccines. The committee is united in its efforts to reach a consensus in order to provide robust advice to ministers on how best to continue preventing hospitalisation and deaths from Covid-19.”

Asked about Scotland’s role in the process, a Scottish government spokesman said: “The CMO [chief medical officer] wrote to the JCVI last week noting they faced ‘challenging decisions, often based on newly emerging or limited clinical data’ and thanked them for their endeavours to date. He outlined that he understood that the JCVI was this week set to consider further data on the issue. Dr [Gregor] Smith outlined that there was an urgency to these considerations ‘given the early return of schools in Scotland in mid-August’.”

The spokesperson said Smith hoped the JCVI would say more about their consideration of the impact of Covid on the long-term health of young people.

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