Sage expert calls for children to get Covid jab as schools set to reopen

One of the UK government’s scientific advisers has called for children to be vaccinated for Covid-19 and warned that opening schools now could lead to a resurgence of the virus.

Prof John Edmunds confirmed nervousness among some members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), of which he is one, about the government’s plan to reopen all schools on 8 March.

He said the move, which is expected to be confirmed by Boris Johnson on Monday, risked pushing the reproduction rate for the virus above the danger threshold of one.

Speaking on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Edmunds said: “I think if we open schools now, the reproduction number is likely to go to something close to one, potentially slightly above.”

He added: “We’re all at risk. And we can all spread the virus, and so until we’ve all been vaccinated, and I include children here, then there is going to be significant risk of a resurgence.”

Quick Guide

Vaccines: how effective is each one and how many has the UK ordered?



Country US/Germany

Efficacy 95% a week after the second shot. Pfizer says it is only 52% after the first dose but the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says this may rise to 90% after 21 days.

The UK has ordered 40m doses.

Doses Clinical trials involved two doses 21 days apart. The UK is stretching this to 12 weeks.


Country UK

Efficacy 70.4% 14 days after receiving the second dose. May have up to 90% efficacy when given as a half dose followed by a full dose. No severe disease or hospitalisations in anyone who received the vaccine. There have been concerns it is less effective against the South African variant of the coronavirus.

The UK has ordered 100m doses.

Doses Two, four to 12 weeks apart


Country US

Efficacy Phase 3 trial results suggest 94.1%.

The UK has ordered 17m doses, to be delivered in March or April

Doses Two, 28 days apart


Country US

Efficacy Phase 3 trials suggest 89.3%.

60m doses ordered by the UK, with distribution expected principally in the second half of the year

Doses Two

Janssen (part of Johnson & Johnson)

Country US

Efficacy 72% in preventing mild to moderate cases in US trials but 66% efficacy observed in international trials. 85% efficacy against severe illness, and 100% protection against hospitalisation and death.

30m doses ordered by the UK

Doses: One, making it unique among Covid vaccines with phase 3 results so far

Photograph: Stéphane Mahé/X02520

Asked if children should be vaccinated after adults, Edmunds suggested they should be vaccinated alongside adults.

“I think there’s an argument for turning to children as fast as we can,” he said. Edmunds, who has two children in secondary school, added: “There will continue to be major disruption in schools until we have vaccinated our children.”

He appeared to favour a phased reopening of schools. Asked if it would be better to open primary schools before secondary schools, Edmunds said: “Sticking to the epidemiology, it is always safer to take smaller steps and evaluate.”

He warned that if lockdown was eased before younger people were vaccinated there was a risk the virus would mutate into variants that were resistant to the jab. He said: “It’s certainly a risk if we allow higher rates of infection in certain parts of the communities – younger individuals – then we do run the risk of further mutations occurring which could reduce the effectiveness of the vaccination programme.”

His remarks came after education sources told the Guardian that the chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, was “very unhappy” with the idea of all 10 million children and staff returning to schools in England on 8 March, although the government denied this and insisted Whitty was not opposed to any of the options being discussed.

On Monday the prime minister is expected to say he wants schools and parents to use controversial lateral flow tests to check secondary pupils for Covid before allowing them to return to classrooms.

The Labour leader said he wanted all pupils in England back in school by this date, despite calls from education unions for a phased return.

Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that more coronavirus testing and “Nightingale classrooms” could address some of the issues. Starmer said: “Ideally, I would like to see all schools back open on March 8th and all children back into schools on March 8th.

“I have been worried through the pandemic – a number of people have – about the impact that being out of school has on, particularly, vulnerable children and the attainment gap is getting bigger.”

He said the government would have to follow the data and the scientific advice on the issue, “but that’s what we should be working towards”.

He added: “If that means more testing, if that means Nightingale classrooms, if it means other measures, let’s do that because I want to get our kids back into school.”

The health secretary declined to comment on the details of easing lockdown, which has yet to be signed off by cabinet ministers.

Matt Hancock told Sky: “We have set out very clearly that getting schools back is the top priority amongst all the different things that we want to do to get life back to normal.”

He added: “Whilst we want to set out a roadmap which gives people guidance in terms of how we think we will be able to do this, we also absolutely will be vigilant to the data on the way.