Wednesday, September 22News That Matters

Lockdowns an ‘absolutely last resort’ to combat COVID this winter, says jabs minister

Lockdowns through the winter will be an “absolutely last resort”, the vaccines minister has told Sky News.

Nadhim Zahawi said the government will instead rely on vaccines to shift COVID-19 from pandemic to endemic status.

His comments come ahead of Boris Johnson announcing a winter plan later today to fight coronavirus, including booster jabs and flu vaccinations.

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COVID jabs for kids: ‘Benefits outweigh risk’

Mr Zahawi told Sky News: “Lockdowns will be an absolutely last resort.

“What we’re trying to do at the moment is to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic through a massive vaccination programme.”

Mr Johnson is expected to announce the “traffic light” system for overseas travel will be axed, as will post-holiday PCR tests for the double jabbed, and fewer “red list” high-risk countries.

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And last night, the vaccines minister announced the government has approved a recommendation by UK medical officers to offer a single Pfizer vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds.

Mr Zahawi added: “Lockdowns were our only tool, that is no longer true.

“We have the vaccines, we have the test and trace system, we have the variant surveillance system, we have the public health advice that people of all ages have followed really, really diligently, which has allowed us to take steps forward, to reopen our economy.

“And the booster campaign, with flu, will help us protect the most vulnerable as we transition.”

The booster scheme will mean a third vaccine dose for millions of older people to slow winter infections, with over-80s and vulnerable groups first in line, followed by all over-50s.

Analysis by Public Health England suggests two COVID vaccine doses has prevented 112,000 deaths and 24 million infections up to 27 August.

There has been controversy over offering the vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds as children will be able to have the final say over whether they receive it or not.

Concerns have also been raised about whether children are being given the vaccine to just protect adults.

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Mr Zahawi said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) looked at the clinical impact on the 12-15 age group and decided being vaccinated is “marginally better” than not but “not enough to recommend” being double vaccinated.

He said the chief medical officers from all four UK nations looked at the other public health and mental health impacts on children – not the wider population – and unanimously agreed they should be offered one dose.

On the consent issue, Mr Zahawi said the COVID jab will be offered through the school-age immunisation service, just as other vaccinations are.

He said it is has been running for “many, many years” and schools will contact parents to ask for parental consent but if children have a difference in opinion to their parents then a clinician will bring them together to “see whether they can reach consent”.

“If that is not possible then, if the child is deemed to be competent – this has been around since the 80s for all vaccination programmes – then the child can have the vaccine,” he said.

“These are very rare occasions and it is important to remember that the school-age immunisation service is incredibly well equipped to deal with this.”

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