Blackburn with Darwen's public health director has said the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) needs to approve the Pfizer vaccination for 12-18 year-olds as soon as possible to help fight the rising cases of coronavirus variants across the borough.

Professor Dominic Harrison today said that while the US, Canada, EU and Singapore have all approved the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer jab in 12-18-year-olds, with Singapore already going ahead with vaccinating that age group, at the moment the UK has yet to make a decision.

He said: "The decision is taken by the MHRA. They have received evidence on the safety and efficacy from Pfizer but still no decision has been made.

"We are calling for two things really - one, for them to hurry up and make a decision, and two, once the decision is made, assuming it's safe and effective, we want that vaccine rolled-out to 12-18 year-olds.

"The rollout should be a priority in the areas that we know have high transmission rates and the areas that have had a surge in variant cases.

"The reason we want our areas prioritised, East Lancashire, Preston, and the whole of Lancashire really, is that in the current situation, what we can see is that the highest transmission rates of Covid and the new variant is in the 12-18-year-old age group."

Protecting the county's young people is of major importance, Professor Harrison said, and while vaccinating teenagers would reduce the risk of them passing the virus and any variants to the wider community, it would in turn help protect others from hospitalisations and ultimately, death.

He continued: "That's the call we've put out and is what we've asked for overall.

"East Lancashire has to have a high level of virus protection given our current risk. We feel that many other areas, especially those with lower risks of transmission have been given much higher protection.

"Areas that have a higher percentage of older people, and areas in the south of England, or in rural areas, areas that are much wealthier, with some of the lowest transmission and case rates throughout the whole pandemic - these areas have had higher levels of vaccinations.

"This is partially because the JCVI said that the elderly and clinically vulnerable are a priority group, which makes a lot of sense, however, what was their risk of being infected in the first place - those wealthier, healthier, richer southern rural areas now have greater protection from the vaccination programme and in my view, and I think in the view of my colleague in Lancashire, Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, we think the evidence is showing that this likely needs to be reviewed urgently - it's unjust and unfair that we have a lower vaccination level but higher rates of transmission."

Prof. Harrison explained that the areas receiving more vaccines have a bigger percentage of over 65s - they have been the priority age group - but when there are areas such as Blackburn with Darwen, which have a bigger percentage of over 30s, that is where the risk of transmission is now highest.

He added: "These southern regions have had two times less deaths and three times less cases than Blackburn with Darwen but now they've received more vaccinations, it doesn't make sense.

"In terms of 12-18-year-olds it's now under active consideration and we are hoping the Government will make a decision in two or three weeks, or even before then."

Speaking about vaccine hesitancy among the parents of young people, should the Pfizer jab be approved, Prof. Harrison said his advice would be to look at the published evidence by the MHRA.

He said: "They will assess whether they are happy, and they will also point out that that Canada, the USA, EU and Singapore have already decided that it's safe, so in my view there's overwhelming support for it.

"But ultimately it will be with the parents on whether they give permission for their child to be vaccinated; we will need to communicate the benefits of getting your child vaccinated so people can make an informed decision.

"We hope that the vast majority will support the vaccine in this age group, as although there is less risk of children being hospitalised with Covid, there are some risks of long Covid effects if they become infected.

"I would hope that Blackburn with Darwen would be prioritised if approval is granted, but we would like to see the whole population vaccinated."