The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was endorsed by Britain’s drug regulator on Friday to be used for 12- to 15-year-olds, as the country reported its highest rate of coronavirus cases since late March.
That puts the final decision on including young people in the country’s vaccination campaign in the hands of a committee advising the government on vaccinations and immunizations. But Britain has been expanding eligibility by age gradually, and currently allows shots for those aged 30 and up. So even with the committee’s approval, it could be weeks, if not months, before 12- to 15-year-olds will be able to get the shots.
The United States and the European Union both cleared the way for the use of the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds last month. The United States began vaccinating the age group last month, and Germany said it would begin next week.
Britain engineered one of the world’s fastest vaccine rollouts. Since Covid vaccinations began last December, more than 75 percent of the Britain’s adult population has received at least one dose, and half have been fully vaccinated, according to public data.
Yet the pace of vaccinations has slowed down in recent months, and Britain now lags behind several European countries in the number of daily doses being administered.
June Raine, the chief executive of Britain’s drug regulator, said on Friday that clinical trial data for 12- to 15-year-olds showed that the Pfizer vaccine was safe and effective. “The benefits of this vaccine outweigh any risk,” Dr. Raine said in a statement.
The drug regulator’s decision comes as Britain has faced a surge of reported cases driven by the variant first detected in India, now known as Delta. The seven-day average of new cases has been rising sharply, and more than 6,200 cases were reported on Friday, according to public data, up from 3,400 cases last week. Deaths have so far remained low, with 11 deaths reported on Friday, but they are still increasing from the single-digit numbers reported in recent weeks.
The spike in cases has prompted several European countries to ban nonessential travel from Britain, and experts in the country have urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to delay the lifting of almost all restrictions scheduled for June 21. “I don’t see anything currently in the data to suggest that we have to deviate from the road map, but we may need to wait,” Mr. Johnson said this week.
Several outbreaks have been reported in British schools in recent weeks, but the country’s health authorities said on Thursday that they were not a source of major concern.
“Infection and outbreak trends in schools have remained consistent with the expectations of public health and education experts and in line with what is happening nationally,” Public Health England said in a statement.