The U.K. announced its plan to open up Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccinations for teenagers this summer. British Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the plan on June 6 during a news appearance. His comments followed the country’s vaccine regulator approving the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine for use in those aged 12 to 15.
The country’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) permitted the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for teenagers on June 4. Hancock lauded the agency during his June 6 Sky News appearance. “I’m delighted that the [MHRA], having looked very carefully at the data with typical rigor and independence, has … said the [Pfizer vaccine] is safe and effective for those who are over the age of 12,” he said.
However, the health secretary clarified that he would take advice from the country’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) when it comes to inoculating teenagers. He continued: “We are taking advice from the JCVI on putting that into practice.” As of writing, the U.K. has given more than 40 million Britons their first COVID-19 vaccine doses. The country is currently vaccinating those over 30 years old – with adults under 30 next in line.
In a piece for the Sunday Telegraph, Hancock remarked that “a huge proportion of the latest [COVID-19] cases are in children.” He continued: “Crucially they can pass it on. [The] spread [of COVID-19] among children does have an impact on others.” The secretary emphasized the value of vaccination in his article, saying that it would also prevent school disruptions in case children catch the pathogen.
Hancock also mentioned that the B1617 variant of the coronavirus made the government’s decision to ease lockdown restrictions “more difficult.” The variant first discovered in India appeared to be 40 percent more transmissible than the British B117 strain. Nevertheless, he insisted that current COVID-19 vaccines still provided protection against the Indian B1617 variant.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair argued on June 6 that fully vaccinated Britons should be granted greater personal freedom. He explained that relaxing measures for inoculated people would encourage others to follow suit. “[It] makes no sense at all to treat those who have had vaccination the same as those who haven’t,” Blair said.
Hancock replied that the issue raised by Blair would be addressed by a government review on COVID-19 certification. The review helmed by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove is expected to release its report soon.
According to the health secretary, it was inevitable that proof of vaccination or testing would be required for international travel as other countries would call for it. However, he said that the U.K. “has not gone there yet” when it came to domestic travel.
In anticipation of this demand, the National Health Service (NHS) rolled out an update on its app that effectively turns it into a digital proof of vaccination. A report by the Daily Mail said the NHS app’s newly added “vaccine record” service allows registered Britons to indicate that they are fully vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine. British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed the update in a May 17 tweet that said: “As of today, the NHS app shows your COVID-19 vaccine record.” (Related: New update to UK NHS tracking app turns it into a VACCINE PASSPORT.)
The NHS app is available to Britons aged 13 years old and up who have registered with a general practitioner in England. It allows patients to book medical appointments and request prescriptions. A government source told the Mail that the vaccination status update was designed to comply with other countries’ requirements for travelers. However, they clarified that there has been “no decision” if such a scheme will be put in place domestically.
Recent moves by the British government appeared to contradict this statement. The Financial Times (FT) earlier reported that England is set to adopt vaccine passports for large events this summer, quoting government officials. According to the government’s proposal, the NHS app may be used to verify is someone is vaccinated for COVID-19 or not before they can attend an event with more than 1,000 people. The plan also outlined that unvaccinated Britons may be required to undergo rigorous COVID-19 testing. (Related: England now ready to adopt vaccine passports for mass events.)
A government spokesperson told FT that vaccine passports “could have an important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure.” They added that digital COVID-19 certificates via the NHS app could help open up higher-risk settings safely. The NHS app’s certificates would consider a recent negative test, complete vaccination schedule or natural immunity after sickness into account, the spokesperson continued.
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