LONDON: Britain's health service will expand its COVID-19 vaccination programme to everyone aged 16 and over, from the current 18 and over, after formal scientific advice in favour of younger age cohorts on Wednesday.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) issued a formal recommendation to offer first doses to all those aged 16 and 17, with advice on second doses to be updated following further study of safety data.
With the latest expansion, the UK joins countries such as the United States, Israel and France who have started to vaccinate older teenagers against COVID-19.
"Today's advice from the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) means more young people aged 16 and over can benefit from COVID-19 vaccines.
I have accepted their expert recommendations and I have asked the NHS to prepare to vaccinate those eligible as soon as possible," said Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
"COVID-19 vaccines have saved more than 60,000 lives and prevented 22 million infections in England alone.
They are building a wall of defence against the virus and are the best way to protect people from serious illness.
I encourage everyone who is eligible to come forward for both their jabs as quickly as possible," he said.
The JCVI has not recommended vaccinating under-16s without underlying health conditions but will keep its position under review based on the latest data, the minister said.
Those aged 12 to 15 with severe neuro-disabilities, Down's Syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities, as well as people in this age group who are household contacts of individuals who are immunosuppressed, are already eligible for vaccination.
"JCVI will continue to review data and provide updates on at-risk groups aged 12-15 and whether any additional groups will be added," Javid said.
The first inoculations for about 1.4 million older teenagers will be offered by the National Health Service (NHS) in the next few weeks ahead of a return to classrooms for the start of the autumn term and children will not need the consent of their parents to get a jab.
"I would just urge all families thinking about this across the country to listen to the JCVI," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
"They are extremely expert there, they're amongst the best if not the best in the world, they know what's safe and I think we should listen to them and take our lead from them," he said.
There has been significant debate over whether younger individuals should be offered the jab, as they are at a lower risk from coronavirus.
More than 85 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered across the UK, according to latest government figures.
A total of 85,196,986 doses have been administered in the UK, with 46,851,145 people receiving a first dose (88.6 per cent) and 38,345,841 people receiving both doses (72.5 per cent).