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”.
“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.
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
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.
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.”
XL bully protesters rally in London after ban by Rishi Sunak – as man injured in dog attack in Southwark park
A man was taken to hospital after being bitten by a dog – believed to be an XL bully – just hours before demonstrators gathered in London today to protest against a proposed ban.
The victim, who is in his 40s, was attacked in Pasley Park in Southwark, southeast London, on Friday.
He suffered injuries to his arm and has since been discharged from hospital. The owner of the dog, believed to be a grey-coloured XL bully, left the scene before police arrived.
Demonstrators held signs in Trafalgar Square saying “don’t bully our bullies” and “muzzle Rishi” at the event, however none of the dogs were present.
Shouts of “save our bullies” and “sit for your dog” rang out as protestors wearing slogan emblazoned T-shirts marched through the capital.
There have been no arrests after the incident in Pasley Park and police inquiries are ongoing.
Writer and lawyer Ness Lyons said the attack happened in her local park.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, she said: “Earlier this evening an XL bully jumped a fence and attacked a man in my local park. Partially witnessed by my son.
“Man was bitten badly in several places including his abdomen.
“Police and ambulance came, but it took an hour. Horrifying.
“The owner grabbed his dog and legged it.”
Rishi Sunak has said he will ban the animals under the Dangerous Dogs Act and new laws will be “in place by the end of the year”, following a spate of attacks involving the breed.
Recent dog attacks
The prime minister’s announcement came after the death of Ian Price, 52, who was mauled by two dogs in Staffordshire earlier in September, in what police said was a suspected XL bully attack.
A few days before his death, shocking footage emerged of an attack in Birmingham that left an 11-year-old girl with serious injuries.
And South Yorkshire Police reported four separate dog attacks on children in two days, including one in which a 15-year-old was taken to hospital after being savaged by an XL bully in Sheffield.
The four breeds currently banned in the UK
The XL bully, which is developed from the American pit bull terrier, is not recognised as a specific breed by the Kennel Club – and there are concerns an attempt to prohibit the animal may not be practical due because of this, as it could mean a ban may inadvertently outlaw other kinds of dogs.
Campaigners are calling for an overhaul of the existing legislation, so it focuses “not on the breed but the deed”.
It is against the law to own, breed or sell dogs on the list of prohibited breeds, drawn up by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
There are currently four banned breeds of dog in the UK: the pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, dogo Argentino and fila Brasileiro.
It is also against the law to have a dog that is dangerously out of control, an offence which can be punished by prison sentences and unlimited fines.
‘Backyard breeders need to be targeted’
Emma Whitfield, whose 10-year-old son Jack Lis was killed by an American XL bully dog in Caerphilly, South Wales, in 2021, has called on the government to go further than just banning the breed, saying backstreet breeders and irresponsible dog owners need to be targeted.
“Banning the dog at the moment will help and putting restrictions on them will prevent these types of attacks,” she said. “But, in the long term, if backyard breeders still exist, they are going to create a new breed and we could find ourselves in a few years in the same place.”
Russell Brand: Men more likely than women to think sex between 16-year-old and older partner is okay
Men are more likely than women to think a sexual relationship between a 16-year-old and a partner decades older is acceptable, new polling has found.
Almost a third of men who responded to the Ipsos polling said this type of age gap was acceptable, compared to 15% of women who agreed it was okay.
The statistics showed a “grave need” for more conversations with young people on issues such as consent, power imbalance within relationships and gender equality.
Women were slightly more likely to support raising the age of consent than men and to feel that older men in relationships with at least a 10-year age gap hold more power, according to the exclusive Ipsos polling for the PA news agency.
The survey of 1,077 adults across Great Britain came a week after the allegations against Brand first surfaced.
Alice (not her real name) said she had a sexual relationship with the comedian when she was a teenager, and he would send BBC cars to her school to collect her from lessons so they could have sex at his home.
He became increasingly controlling during the relationship, Alice said, and encouraged her to lie to family and friends about the relationship.
What men and women think about this age gap
According to the PA polling, more than two-thirds (68%) of women said this type of age gap would be unacceptable, just over half (54%) of men felt this way.
More than a quarter (27%) of men said it was either somewhat or completely acceptable for a 16-year-old boy to have a sexual relationship with a woman aged up to 30.
This compares with just 9% of women thinking this is acceptable.
The trend continued with bigger age gaps – as almost a fifth (17%) of men said it was somewhat or completely acceptable for a 16-year-old girl to have sex with a man up to 40 years old, compared to just 4% of women feeling this way.
When it comes to a 16-year-old girl being in a sexual relationship with a man aged 50 or older, more than one in 10 men (13%) thought this was acceptable compared to 3% of women.
Overall, 48% of people said they either tended to or strongly supported the idea of raising the age of consent from 16 to 18, while 40% said they supported the idea of staggered consent, in findings similar to those from a YouGov poll earlier this week.
Women were slightly more likely to support the idea of staggered consent – where it is only legal for a 16 or 17-year-old to have sex with someone up to the age of 20 or 21 – than men, with a 41% and 38% split, according to the Ipsos polling.
Speaking to BBC Radio Women’s Hour earlier this week, Alice said her mother had breakdowns because “there was nothing that she could do to protect me from being in that relationship” due to the fact the teenager was the legal age to consent to sex at the time.
Alice said: “People say ‘well, just call the police’. And then what? I was legally allowed to be there.”
Alice added: “He was 30. Now that I’m in my 30s looking at 16-year-olds, I can’t imagine finding them sexually attractive. I can’t imagine thinking of them as a potential mate in any way.”
Anna Edmundson, head of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC, said: “While 16 and 17-year-olds are above the legal age of consent, we know from young people that reach out to Childline that they can still be vulnerable to grooming, exploitation and other forms of abuse, particularly from adults.”
Rishi Sunak scraps government taskforce aimed at saving energy and lowering bills
A government taskforce intended to help people save energy and lower their bills has been disbanded after just six months.
The Energy Efficiency Taskforce was set up by the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, in March to boost uptake of insulation and boiler upgrades in homes and commercial buildings.
It included Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, along with bosses of banks, housing developers and behavioural experts – aiming to drive a 15 per cent reduction in energy usage by 2030.
One member of the taskforce Laura Sandys, a former Conservative MP who now chairs the Green Alliance, tweeted she was “disappointed” the taskforce had been disbanded and confused about “the government’s intentions on cost of living”.
The group had four meetings but were yet to make any formal recommendations. Energy efficiency minister Lord Callanan wrote to them yesterday to say their work would be incorporated into the work of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.
Jess Ralston, an energy analyst at non-profit group the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, told Sky News: “This appears to be yet another u-turn that could lead to higher bills just like the prime minister’s decision last week to roll back landlord insulation standards that could leave renters paying an additional £8bn on energy bills.”
Two sources close to the taskforce discussions blamed the Treasury for not being willing to consider radical measures to incentivise families and businesses to take up the measures. One idea suggested was stamp duty reform.
One person said: “The Treasury spent £40bn last winter on energy support payments but wouldn’t spend £1-2bn on energy efficiency incentives which would save people money on their bills. It’s short-sighted”.
The second person said: “We had some short-term ideas ready to go about how to help people with their energy bills, but the Treasury needed to kickstart it.”
A Treasury source rejected this, and said: “Our commitment to energy efficiency has not changed one iota”
They added the decision to close the taskforce had been taken by the Department for Energy and Net Zero, created in February this year.
The taskforce was chaired by Lord Callanan and the former NatWest Group chief executive Alison Rose who resigned from the bank in July in a row over the closure of Nigel Farage’s account. It was intended to stimulate private sector investment and identify barriers in the market.
PM overhauls climate policies
A spokesperson for the department confirmed the taskforce was being disbanded and said: “We would like to thank the Energy Efficiency Taskforce for its work in supporting our ambition to reduce total UK energy demand by 15% from 2021 levels by 2030.
“We have invested £6.6bn in energy efficiency upgrades this Parliament and will continue to support families in making their homes more efficient, helping them to cut bills while also achieving net zero in a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic way.”
It comes after the prime minister made a speech this week rowing back on parts of the green agenda pursued by his predecessors – with targets relaxed for phasing out petrol and diesel cars, upgrading boilers and for landlords to make their properties energy efficient.
The oldest housing stock in Europe
Insulating homes is key to meeting the UK’s net zero target in 2050 – which remains in place. The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe with millions of draughty, poorly insulated homes.
It had been estimated six million homes would need to be insulated by 2030 to reach the government’s target of reducing energy usage by 15%.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s Shadow Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, criticised the move.
“Every family is paying the price in higher energy bills due to 13 years of Tory failure on insulating homes.” he said.
“After Rishi Sunak’s track record as chancellor with the disastrous Green Homes Grant, this is another short-sighted decision that will cost families money.”
Energy efficiency in England’s homes has increased since 2010, when just 14% were in the highest efficiency bands A to C. By 2020, it was 46%, according to the English Housing Survey. For homes that were improved to a Band C level, the annual energy saving was £282 per year.
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