The Scottish government has confirmed it will offer Covid vaccinations to all children aged five to 11 years, adding to the pressure on UK ministers to do so in England.
The Scottish decision follows an announcement on Tuesday from the devolved government in Wales that it would follow unpublished advice from the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that all children in that age group should be jabbed.
Scottish government officials have started conversations with health boards about how to deliver the vaccinations, following advice circulated by the JCVI to all the UK’s governments earlier this month.
The UK government, which runs health services in England but also oversees the UK-wide purchase and distribution of the vaccines, has delayed making a decision on the recommendation. Ministers in all four governments normally immediately follow JCVI advice but on this occasion, with the Treasury pressing hard for steep cuts in Covid test spending, have decided the need to vaccinate children is not urgent.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said: “I can confirm that ministers have considered this draft advice and are content to accept its recommendations. Throughout the pandemic it has been our intention that we follow the clinical and scientific evidence available to us and I’d like to once again thank the JCVI for their hard work in scrutinising the science and providing clear guidance.
“Discussions with health boards on the best way of delivering vaccinations to five- to 11-year-olds have already begun. These will continue and we will provide further information when this approach is finalised. In the meantime, parents and carers of children aged between five and 11 need not do anything.
“This draft advice does not affect children in the five- to 11-year-old age group who have specific medical conditions which place them at greater risk from Covid-19. This group is already being vaccinated.”
The Welsh and Scottish decisions again highlights growing differences in strategy and policy between the UK’s four governments over tackling the pandemic, with devolved governments taking more cautious approach than ministers in London.
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, is expected to confirm next week that the vaccinations will be offered to five- to 11-year-olds in England, when he unveils his government’s longer-term strategy for “living with Covid” on 21 February. Sturgeon will publish the Scottish long-term plan on 22 February.
The Conservative government in London has been far quicker to lift Covid restrictions than the three devolved administrations, including ending mandatory self-isolation regulations, despite consistent scientific and medical advice that mask-wearing, self-isolation and physical distancing measures are still necessary.