‘Turbocharge child vaccines’: Speeding up Covid jabs rollout for school pupils could prevent the need for more restrictions, Jeremy Hunt says
Vaccines for children must be ‘turbocharged’ to prevent the need for more restrictions, Jeremy Hunt said yesterday.
The former health secretary, who is now chairman of the Commons health committee, said delays in rolling out boosters and jabs for pupils have left the UK with higher case rates than other Western nations.
At a Royal Society of Medicine webinar, he said: ‘Essentially we need to turbocharge the vaccine rollout – particularly the booster jabs and the children’s vaccine programme. That is at the heart of what’s driving the increased case rates.’
He added that the Government must be willing to rapidly implement Plan B if needed.
Vaccines for children must be ‘turbocharged’ to prevent the need for more restrictions, Jeremy Hunt (Pictured) said yesterday
In England, just one in five 12 to 15-year-olds have had their jab so far, whereas in France two thirds of children were jabbed before schools reopened.
Latest data suggests the recent surge in cases – driven by the rampant spread of Covid-19 in classrooms – has already peaked.
But infection levels among secondary pupils are still ten times higher than in the over-80s. Yesterday, there were 39,842 positive cases, 962 admitted to hospital and 165 deaths.
The drop in cases has raised hopes that Plan B – involving mandatory face masks, working from home and vaccine passports – will not be needed.
Mr Hunt said the Government must not be afraid of ‘U-turning’ once again if cases start to increase.
He also criticised delays by the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that left the UK lagging behind other Western nations in vaccinating youngsters and starting boosters.
Mr Hunt said: ‘The growth in cases that we’re currently experiencing has principally happened in teenage schoolchildren.
‘The delay in the booster programme and the schoolchildren vaccination programme is at the heart of why we’re seeing a mini-surge at the moment.
‘That’s where I think we need to focus our efforts to turn things around.’
He said the failure to vaccinate children before they returned to school has left the UK ‘more exposed’ than other nations.
Meanwhile Sir Patrick Vallance said the country was currently in a ‘very uncertain phase’ of the pandemic but that a ‘difficult winter’ lay ahead.
He told the BBC: ‘You need to absolutely be prepared (for plan B)…This is obviously something the government will have to consider carefully but we need to be ready to move fast if that occurs.’
He added: ‘Nobody is really clear which direction this is going in, but they are clear about the two big variables that could change that.
‘One is waning immunity, so if immunity wanes faster than expected, you’ll see a bigger increase, and that’s why it’s so important to get booster shots going in the vulnerable and the elderly in particular.
‘The second is the behavioural change, how quickly we return to pre-pandemic behaviours.’
He said that, as immunity builds from vaccination and infection in children, the surge in infections is likely to level off.