A leading scientist advising the Government has said the vaccine rollout should be widened to include school children. 

Professor Peter Openshaw, who teaches experimental medicine at Imperial College London, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on Saturday: “Originally, with the Wuhan strain, it did not seem there was much amplification of the epidemic going on amongst people who were at school, in contrast to what we know about influenza where schools are often a major driver of spread.

“But with more transmissible variants, it is evident they are being transmitted much more amongst young adults and school children – and even younger children – and that seems perhaps to be down to a biological quality of the infection.

“It is still fortunately not causing very high disease rates among those kids but it does strengthen the argument for extending vaccination [to children].  

“I’ve been rather sitting over the fence on this one but, on balance, I am coming to the view that [for] vaccination of children, there is a very strong argument that we should go there.”

“New evidence has come out about the safety and efficacy in terms of generating an antibody response in children and it looks like it is pretty safe and there are no really adverse signals,” he added.

Prof Openshaw is a member of Nervtag, which advises the Government on the threat posed by new and emerging respiratory diseases. 

Other notable Nervtag members include Professor Peter Hornby, who was knighted for his work in developing Covid-19 treatments; Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial academic whose modelling forced the Government into the first lockdown in March 2020, and Professor Wei Shen Lim, a Nottingham-based consultant respiratory physician. 

Prof Shen Lim is also the head of the Covid arm of the Joint Committee for vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) which is currently deciding whether to extend the vaccine rollout for children. 

Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine was recently deemed safe for use in children by the UK’s drug and vaccine watchdog, the MHRA, and the decision from the JCVI is pending.

Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures

Public Health England (PHE) data published on Friday showed that the delta variant, first identified in India, is approximately 60 per cent more transmissible than the alpha variant, which itself is more than 40 per cent more infectious than the original strain which broke out in Wuhan more than 18 months ago. 

PHE found that the delta variant is also behind 149 outbreaks in primary and secondary schools.

More than 90 per cent of all Covid cases are now of the delta variant and the hardest hit age group is people aged between 10 and 19, according to PHE stats, which showed these school-aged people account for 23.4 per cent of all cases, more than any other cohort of the population.