Britain, she said, was “heading in the same direction as other countries, but with a major delay” in vaccinating those aged 12 to 15, drawing up contingency plans for mandatory mask wearing and vaccine passports, and boosting testing to get the country through what is likely to be a difficult winter.
Monday’s decision to vaccinate children as young as 12 was contentious, though many other countries, including the United States, France, Italy and the Netherlands began doing so months ago. The British government’s advisory group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, had previously concluded that the health benefits for those aged 12 to 15 were marginal. That prompted a debate over the ethics of vaccinating children to prevent the spread of a virus that is a health risk to the adults with whom they live and meet.
On Monday, the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, argued that, by reducing the disruption in schools, a vaccination campaign would bring other benefits to young people.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Similarly, the decision on boosters puts Britain among a growing group of countries that are offering additional shots to their own citizens before many people in large parts of the world have received even one dose, provoking criticism from David Nabarro, a special envoy on Covid for the World Health Organization.
“I’m a bit upset, frankly, to hear that Britain is going into boosters, when this is simply going to take really precious vaccine away from people in other parts of the world who can’t get their basic two doses, and therefore going to be at risk of death,” he told Times Radio.
The question for Mr. Johnson is whether vaccines and his light-touch approach to other restrictions will be enough to forestall more draconian measures.
Graham Medley, an epidemiologist who is advising the government, said that in England, the reproduction rate for the virus was hovering around one, meaning that the epidemic was still circulating widely but not spreading exponentially. He said he did not expect a return of the high levels of infection of last January.