The Scottish Government is drawing up plans to vaccinate children aged between 12 and 15, Nicola Sturgeon has said, with ministers now waiting on expert approval before starting to give the jags to youngsters.
The First Minister pledged to move as “quickly as practically possible” if the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) gives the go-ahead for immunising children in this age group.
But she could not commit to calls from Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar for all adults aged 40 and above to have been given both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine – and for younger adults to have had at least their first jag – by the end of June.
Mr Sarwar called on the First Minister to “commit to an ambitious target of double dosing everyone over 40, and at least one dose for everyone over 18,” by June 28 – the next date when restrictions in Scotland could be eased.
A decision on the next phase of easing will be made on June 21, Ms Sturgeon confirmed.
But pressed by Mr Sarwar on the need to “accelerate the response” to coronavirus, the First Minister said vaccinations were being done “as quickly as our supplies allow”.
She said: “I would love us to be doing more, but the constraining factor is the supply.”
Her comments came as she revealed the Scottish Government was “already doing the planning to extend the vaccination programme to children over 12, should the JCVI recommend that”.
Six months on from the very first vaccine doses being given, the First Minister told MSPs that extending the programme to children could give them greater protection and further reduce community transmission of Covid-19.
Last week, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for young people aged 12 to 15.
But officials are yet to decide whether children will be included in the vaccination programme.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The Scottish Government is now awaiting advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on the vaccination of children in those age groups.
“I’m sure everyone would agree that it is vital that we continue to rely on expert advice in all of our vaccination decisions.
“However, vaccination may very well be a really important way of giving children greater protection, minimising any further disruption to schooling, and also further reducing community transmission of the virus.
“And so I can confirm that if the JCVI does recommend the use of the vaccine for children aged 12 and over, we will move as quickly as practically possible to implement their advice.
“For the moment, however, we continue to focus on vaccinating all adults as quickly as possible.”
Speaking six months after the first coronavirus vaccine was administered in Scotland, she said the progress has been “remarkable”.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said that vaccination was the “route out of both restrictions and this pandemic”.
He added that he hoped “swift progress” could be made vaccinating children aged 12 to 15 “so that young people’s education is not disrupted any longer”.
The latest figures show Scotland recorded 695 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, but no deaths, meaning the death toll under the daily measure remains at 7,677.
Almost exactly three quarters of the adult population in Scotland have now received a first dose of the vaccine and more than half two doses.
The First Minister said coronavirus cases are rising, with an increase of around 50% in the last week, and there would be no immediate changes to coronavirus restrictions in Scotland.
But she said the vaccination programme may be reducing the proportion of people who require hospital treatment.
She said: “So in summary our position is still fragile. Case numbers are higher than we would like. The virus does still cause serious health harm. And, of course, it still has the potential to put pressure on our health service.
“That is why we must continue to assess the data carefully, as we make decisions about whether and when to ease restrictions further.
“But on the upside – and I want to stress I think it is a very significant upside – the vaccines do appear to be doing their jobs, and that should give us all firm grounds for optimism.”