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The government is expected to announce the offering of a coronavirus vaccine to some 1.4 million teenagers “imminently”, a minister has confirmed.

Speaking to Kay Burley on Sky News, universities minister Michelle Donelan said Number 10 was awaiting advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which is assessing whether all 16 and 17-year-olds should receive the jab, and that an announcement would be made “shortly”.

The change in policy was first hinted at by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday as she announced that the Scottish government and the UK, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are “in the same position” in expecting updated recommendations for 16 and 17-year-olds “in the next day or so”.

S5 and S6 students during an English Literature class at St Andrew's RC Secondary School in Glasgow as more pupils are returning to school in Scotland in the latest phase of lockdown easing. Picture date: Monday March 15, 2021.
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Some scientists have suggested offering under-18s the jab could prevent disruption to schooling

“We haven’t announced that, what we are doing is waiting for the JCVI announcement,” Ms Donelan told Sky News.

“At every stage throughout the pandemic we have adopted their advice on this, they are the experts of course when we are determining the vaccine rollout and we will await their imminently announcement shortly.”

She then clarified: “We are awaiting the feedback from the JCVI and then we will update accordingly, so we haven’t actually had a change of heart, there’s been no policy announcement, we’re awaiting that JCVI announcement which we’re expecting imminently, and then we’ll make an announcement.”

The vaccine is already available to children aged 12 and over if their health leaves them at higher risk, or if they live with an immunosuppressed person.

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Ms Donelan did not answer whether parental consent may be required for teenagers to accept the offer of a jab.

And pushed on whether 18 to 30-year-olds could be offered cash incentives to take up the vaccine, she added that “everything is on the table”.

The expected move comes as NHS data to 25 July shows more than 220,000 children in England have already had a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has been approved for use in children aged 12 to 17

A person receives a dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine at the Central Middlesex Hospital in London, Britain, August 1, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi announced in the Commons in July that those under 18 with certain health conditions or living with someone who is immunocompromised would be eligible for the jab

But there has been significant debate over whether younger individuals should be offered the jab.

Some scientists say it would prevent further disruption to schooling in the next academic year, but other individuals have suggested that – as children are at a lower risk of serious illness from the virus – it would not be beneficial.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi announced in the Commons in July that those under the age of 18 with certain health conditions or living with someone who is immunocompromised would be eligible for the jab.

This, he said, would also include those approaching their 18th birthday.

Mr Zahawi noted at the time that the vaccine experts who advise the government, the JCVI, were keeping the option of offering the vaccine to children under constant review.

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Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested on Tuesday that an announcement would be made in the coming days

The JCVI previously said in July that “the minimal health benefits of offering universal COVID-19 vaccination to children do not outweigh the potential risks” as coronavirus rarely causes severe disease in children without underlying health conditions.

Symptoms are “typically mild” in children, the JCVI said, and as of March 2021, fewer than 30 children had died because of the virus.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React programme, said children should be vaccinated if they are offered the chance to be as a surge in infections to mid-July was being “driven” by younger people.

“Clearly what’s important now is that as many people who get offered the opportunity to have the vaccination should take it,” he told Sky News.

Speaking about the React study, he added: “The highest rates of infection was in the 13 to 24-year-old group, and the increase that we saw going up to mid-July was being driven from these younger people.

“As you say, there is a suggestion that maybe 16 and 17-year-olds will be offered the vaccine, in which case, I think it’s important that people should take that up if offered.”

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Bardia Shojaeifard: Boy, 15, jailed for murder of Alfie Lewis in knife attack outside school in Leeds

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Bardia Shojaeifard: Boy, 15, jailed for murder of Alfie Lewis in knife attack outside school in Leeds

A 15-year-old boy who had a “worrying interest in knives” has been jailed for life – with a minimum of 13 years behind bars – for stabbing another teenager to death on the way home from school.

Bardia Shojaeifard was named for the first time today by a judge shortly before he was sentenced for the murder of Alfie Lewis, also 15.

Alfie was stabbed to death in front of pupils leaving a primary school in the Horsforth area of Leeds last November.

The court heard Shojaeifard – who was 14 at the time of the murder – was an “outwardly normal” boy.

He admitted stabbing Alfie with a 13cm-long knife he had brought from home, but denied murder and claimed he was acting in self-defence when he pulled out the blade.

Alfie Lewis
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Alfie Lewis

Shojaeifard was found guilty of murdering Alfie by a Leeds Crown Court jury in April.

Mr Justice Cotter removed reporting restrictions that prevented him from being identified on Friday.

He said lifting the defendant’s anonymity would help in the “vitally important debate about the scourge of knife crime, among young people in particular”.

A picture recovered from the phone of Bardia Shojaeifard shows him posing with a knife.
Pic: West Yorkshire Police
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A picture recovered from the phone of Bardia Shojaeifard shows him posing with a knife. Pic: West Yorkshire Police

A picture recovered from the phone of Bardia Shojaeifard shows him posing with a knife.
Pic: West Yorkshire Police
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Pic: West Yorkshire Police

Mr Justice Cotter said the public would be wondering how a young boy “from a loving and supportive family” could commit such an “extraordinary” crime “without forewarning or any warning signs save for some pictures of knives on his phone”.

Alfie was stabbed twice – with a chest wound penetrating his heart and causing “catastrophic bleeding”, West Yorkshire Police said.

He was pronounced dead in hospital a short time later.

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Eyewitnesses had said Shojaeifard had approached Alfie and attacked him without provocation – with the victim trying to back away.

Alfie was heard saying “chill out” and “what are you doing?” as Shojaeifard swung at him with the knife.

The attacker later ran off and left the knife near the scene, and was arrested at his home about an hour later.

Detectives believe Shojaeifard had been carrying the kitchen knife all day, and had intended to seek Alfie at home time.

Leeds Crown Court had heard that there had been two previous incidents involving both boys – including one last July that saw Alfie intervene in a fight Shojaeifard was having with another boy.

A week before the deadly attack – on Halloween – Shojaeifard had walked past Alfie’s house with a bag of fireworks, prompting Alfie to say to him: “Give me the bag or something worse than last time is going to happen.”

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From May: Alfie’s brother thanks jury

Following the sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Stacey Atkinson said: “Shojaeifard targeted Alfie in a premeditated and planned attack using murderous violence to end his young life, for which there can be no excuse or justification.

“His actions have robbed Alfie of his future and left his family and friends absolutely devastated. No sentence will ever compensate them for their loss.”

Alfie’s mother Heather Lane addressed Shojaeifard directly as she read her victim impact statement in court.

“No sentence will ever be enough for what you have done. I will never, ever forgive you,” she said.

Ms Lane sobbed as she said: “Alfie was my heart and when he was stabbed in the heart it killed me too.”

Alfie’s older brother Antony described him as a “loving and caring little mate” who “never deserved what happened to him”.

Mr Justice Cotter told Shojaeifard: “He had a long life ahead of him and you took that away.

“Knives have stolen so many lives, and you and others must understand how dangerous this obsession is.

“Without your interest in knives, Alfie would be here today.”

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UK weather: Heatwave could hit next week – but there’s a big catch for hayfever sufferers thanks to ‘pollen bomb’

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UK weather: Heatwave could hit next week - but there's a big catch for hayfever sufferers thanks to 'pollen bomb'

High levels of pollen are striking parts of the UK – bringing fresh misery for hayfever sufferers – with forecasts suggesting there could be a heatwave next week.

The Met Office has warned the pollen count will be very high in England for the next five days, extending to Wales and Northern Ireland from Saturday onwards.

By Monday, all but the northernmost parts of Scotland will be affected.

Pic: Met Office
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Pic: Met Office

Asthma + Lung UK is urging people with respiratory conditions to take precautions in the week ahead.

The charity’s research suggests pollen is a trigger for 47% of people with asthma, and 27% of those who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (also known as COPD).

This can cause symptoms like coughing, wheezing, a tight chest and breathlessness to flare up.

Erika Radford, the organisation’s head of health advice, told Sky News: “When pollen particles are breathed in, they can cause inflammation in the airways and get into the lungs, making it harder for those with lung conditions to breathe. This can be terrifying.”

Asthma sufferers have been urged to use their preventer inhaler every day as prescribed, and keep a reliever inhaler nearby at all times – even when at home.

Britons who suffer from hayfever can take antihistamines, ask their GP to prescribe a steroid nasal spray, and avoid going outside as much as possible on high pollen days.

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UK heatwaves: ‘A silent killer’

Other top tips for beating the pollen include:

• Not hanging your washing outdoors

• Having a shower when you’ve been outside

• Keeping windows and doors closed

• Vacuuming and wiping down surfaces regularly

• Taking antihistamines four weeks before symptoms start.

Eating apples and red onions has also been touted as a way of lowering histamine levels.

Pic: Met Office
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Pic: Met Office

Heatwave on the horizon

Meanwhile, the Met Office is forecasting higher temperatures as we head into next week – with 30C (86F) possible in isolated spots.

While Friday and Saturday are looking less settled, fine conditions are set to return on Sunday, and temperatures could be in the mid-20s for many in the days that follow.

Check the five-day weather forecast where you are

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Chief forecaster Neil Armstrong said: “Some central and southern areas are likely to see temperatures approaching the values needed for heatwave conditions.

“Heatwave conditions need to remain in situ for three consecutive days, and by the middle of next week it is possible that some parts of the UK could be reaching heatwave thresholds.”

He anticipates “the finest conditions and highest temperatures so far this year” – but lower overnight temperatures are set to offer some respite for those who struggle with the heat.

Sky meteorologist Steff Gaulter added: “We’ve a plume of hot, humid air coming up from the south which will start to affect us from Sunday.

“This will bring a fair amount of cloud for some places, but in the sunniest spots we’re likely to see temperatures of 27C on Sunday, 28C Monday and 29C on Tuesday and Wednesday. This might be a bit of a shock to some people after the rather lacklustre start to summer we’ve had so far!

“We’re not all going to see these temperatures though and there will be some rain affecting the western parts. The highest temperatures look most likely in central and eastern England.

“Then on Wednesday, it looks like we’ll see a thundery breakdown, but in weather terms this is still a long way off, so we’ll have to keep you posted on that.”

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NHS cyber attack: Sensitive data stolen from blood test provider by criminal group ‘published online’

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NHS cyber attack: Sensitive data stolen from blood test provider by criminal group 'published online'

Sensitive data stolen from an NHS provider in a cyber attack has apparently been published online.

NHS England says a criminal group claims it has released patient information hacked from Synnovis, which provides pathology services on blood tests.

Synnovis, which provides services primarily in southeast London, was the victim of a ransomware attack, understood to be carried out by Russian group Qilin, on 3 June.

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In a statement on Friday morning, NHS England said: “NHS England has been made aware that the cyber criminal group published data last night which they are claiming belongs to Synnovis and was stolen as part of this attack.

“We understand that people may be concerned by this and we are continuing to work with Synnovis, the National Cyber Security Centre and other partners to determine the content of the published files as quickly as possible.

“This includes whether it is data extracted from the Synnovis system, and if so whether it relates to NHS patients.

“As more information becomes available through Synnovis’ full investigation, the NHS will continue to update patients and the public.”

The cyber criminal group shared almost 400GB of data – including patient names, dates of birth, NHS numbers and descriptions of blood tests – on their darknet site and Telegram channel, the BBC said.

Spreadsheets containing financial arrangements between hospitals and GP services and Synnovis were also published, the BBC reported.

Synnovis said in a statement on Friday morning: “We know how worrying this development may be for many people. We are taking it very seriously and an analysis of this data is already under way.”

More than 320 planned operations and 1,294 outpatient appointments were postponed at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust between 10 and 16 June, the second week after the attack.

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Since the first week after the attack (3 to 9 June), the number of rearranged planned operations has gone down by 494, but a further 394 outpatient appointments have been missed.

So far, the data theft has led to more than 1,100 planned operations and 2,100 outpatient appointments to be postponed, according to NHS England London figures.

Urgent and emergency services have remained available as usual.

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