Covid: First healthy 16 and 17-year-olds get coronavirus vaccine

Elliot Aston, 16, from Newtownards, who got his first Pfizer jab at the SSE Arena in Belfast
Elliot Aston, 16, from Newtownards, who got his first Pfizer jab at the SSE Arena in Belfast

Previously, only some under-18s had been eligible for a jab if they had certain health conditions or lived with someone who is immunocompromised.

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The first coronavirus jabs are now on offer for healthy 16-year-olds as latest estimates show Covid infection levels in three of the UK’s four nations have fallen.

Walk-ins are open to older teenagers in Northern Ireland from Friday while GP appointments are being offered in England, just two days after it was announced the vaccine rollout was being extended to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Pfizer doses are available at regional vaccination centres and pop-up walk-in clinics in Northern Ireland.

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann said he had asked his officials to ensure the new recommendation, issued on Wednesday from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), was implemented “as quickly as possible”.

The extension of the rollout means all of the UK’s 1.4 million 16 and 17-year-olds will now be eligible to get a first dose.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK.
Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK.

Under previous guidance some under-18s had already been eligible for a jab if they had certain health conditions, live with someone who is immunocompromised or were approaching their 18th birthday.

Elliot Aston said he was “quite excited” to have received his first jab on Friday.

The 16-year-old, from Newtownards, Co Down, told the PA news agency: “It’s good that they’re finally offering it to us because we are probably the ones that are out and about the most so I think it’s about time.”

In England, teenagers are being advised they should wait to be contacted by their GP to arrange an appointment, and some clinics were already giving out jabs on Friday, NHS England said.

Walk-in services are expected to be available across England from next week.

In Scotland those in this age category can register their interest on the online portal from Friday and will then be sent an appointment by text or email, while those in Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles will be contacted by their health board.

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said health boards there are beginning to send out vaccine invites to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Covid-19 vaccine doses in the UK.
Covid-19 vaccine doses in the UK.

It comes as the latest estimates show infection levels have fallen in all nations apart from Northern Ireland.

In its snapshot of the level of infection for the week to July 31, the Office for National Statistics survey showed that while the estimated number of people in England testing positive for Covid-19 has dropped for the first time since the end of May, in Northern Ireland infection is at its highest level since since the week to January 23.

In Wales, around one in 230 people are estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to July 31 – down from one in 160 in the previous week.

For Scotland, the ONS estimates that around one in 120 people had Covid-19, down from one in 110 in the previous week.

Experts welcomed the general fall in infection levels as “good news”, while the ONS said they were “encouraging”.

Currently, uptake of first vaccine doses among 18 to 29-year-olds in the UK is highest in Wales, at 75%.

This is followed by 72.8% in the same age category in Scotland, 69.3% in England, and 63.9% in Northern Ireland.

Mr Drakeford said this is down to an approach of encouragement rather than one that “threatens” or offers prizes.

Young people in England have been told they will not get into nightclubs from next month unless they are double jabbed, while there are also discounted taxi journeys and meals being used as incentives for people to get vaccinated.

Mr Drakeford dismissed this kind of approach, saying young people in Wales are simply being told they have “a contribution” to make.

He told the BBC’s Today programme: “Our appeal to young people is not one that either threatens them by saying you won’t be able to do things or tries to induce them by offering them prizes, but just says to them, ‘you have a contribution to make, you can keep yourself but also other people who matter to you safe’.

“That appeal, I think, means that we’ve succeeded in getting our vaccination numbers in that cohort up higher than in other parts of the United Kingdom.”

He told Sky News the approach in Wales is one of “appealing to people, not on the basis of trying to frighten them into doing it or induce them into doing it”.

Nightclubs are set to reopen and all restrictions on meeting others are to be removed in Wales, in the biggest easing of coronavirus measures since the pandemic began.

In a bid to drive up the number of young people getting the vaccine in England, its benefits will be broadcast to partygoers in nightclubs, with veteran venues including Ministry of Sound and Heaven helping to push messaging, while the latter will also host a vaccine event on Sunday.

Meanwhile Public Health England has said there are “initial findings” from research indicating that levels of virus in people with the Delta variant – which is dominant in the UK and was first identified in India – may be similar to levels found in unvaccinated people.

PHE said this could have implications for people’s infectiousness, whether they have been vaccinated or not, but that more research is needed.

They added that, since their last update on July 19, figures showed that more than half of people admitted to hospital with the Delta variant were not vaccinated.

Of the 1,467 admitted to hospital, 808 (55.1%) were unvaccinated, while 512 (34.9%) had received both doses of the vaccine.

The latest data from NHS England shows that the number of coronavirus patients in hospital in England has dropped for the fourth day in a row, down to 4,879 as of 8am on Friday August 6.

This is down 4.5% week-on-week from the 5,111 reported on Friday July 30 and the fourth day in a row that the number of beds occupied by confirmed Covid-19 patients has fallen.

The latest Government figures showed there had been a further 31,808 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK as of Friday.