It is not yet clear whether children aged 12 and over should get the Coivd-19 vaccine, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said.
Professor Adam Finn, who is part of the body which advises the Government on vaccines, said that if enough immunity was built up through the adult vaccination programme then vaccinating children may not be justified.
But another public health expert argued that the UK should follow the US and Israel and begin to vaccinate children to prevent outbreaks in schools.
Professor Devi Sridhar said that youngsters should be vaccinated over the summer to ensure that schools can return to normal in the autumn and prevent further periods of home learning.
The UKs medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use among children aged 12 and over in the UK.
But officials are yet to decide whether children will be included in the vaccination programme.
Professor Sir David King the former chief scientific adviser to the government urged ministers to roll out the jab to those over 12 “quickly”.
Asked whether the nation should proceed with the vaccination of children, Prof Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, told Good Morning Britain: “I’m saying that we need to be driven by the evidence and decide whether or not to immunise children when it becomes clear whether that’s actually something that’s needed. And at this point we’re not sure about that.”
He went on: “So the issue is not that there’s a problem doing it, it’s just a question of whether we need to do it, given the very low incidence of serious illness in children and the fact that we’re achieving so much with the adult programme at the moment with very high coverage.
“If indeed it turns out that children can be indirectly protected by the immunity that we induce in adults then there’s clearly no justification for immunising – or at least immunising all of them.
“So we need to really work out what the needs are before we make any decision.”
He added: “Broadly speaking, it is the one of the small mercies of this epidemic – children are very mildly affected when they get this infection, very few of them get seriously ill, and for the most part they’re actually not that infectious to others or to each other, as compared to other respiratory viruses where that’s quite different and we see lots of transmission going on in childhood.”
But Prof Sridhar, chairman of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, said children aged 12 and over should be vaccinated to avoid further periods of home learning.
She told Good Morning Britain: “If we want schools to continue without disruption in the autumn and lift restrictions so children can have a normal experience, we need to vaccinate them, and if we wait and watch for the evidence it will be too late in the next few weeks.
“We have the supply – it’s not a large amount, it’s a couple of million doses to cover that population of 12-plus.
“And we can’t use AstraZeneca – the main supply we have – in younger age groups, so we should export AstraZeneca and help countries abroad, send those doses, as well as focusing on our adolescents to make sure they don’t have another year disrupted, because that would be an absolute shame.”
She added: “Children can still get long Covid and can still be chronically ill from this.
“Given that we know children can transmit, where we are going to see problems going forward is not going to be in care homes, it’s not going to be in hospitals, it’s going to be in schools, because this is where you’re going to see large groups of unvaccinated kids together, and we are going to have outbreaks.
“We might as well just do it, roll it out in the summer, get those kids covered so secondary schools can go back, normally, this autumn.
“I think it’d be a huge shame for backing blended learning or having kids doing home learning in the autumn.”
Sir David, who is also chair of the Independent Sage Group, urged the Department for Education to reconsider their policy on masks in secondary schools.
From May 17, secondary school and college pupils in England were advised that face masks were no longer required in class, but in some areas councils have urged the continued use of them due to fears over new variants.
He told Sky News: “The Pfizer vaccine has already been given the green light in this country to over-12-year-olds. I think we should run that programme forward quickly.
“But we’re opening schools today and the Government has said 12-to-18-year-olds no longer need to wear face masks at school – I don’t think that was a wise thing to do and I do hope the Government will rethink this in the light of the current figures.”
It comes as children and their families have been urged to help reduce case numbers by taking a Covid-19 test before retuning to school after half term.