Children as young as 12 could be offered either the Pfizer or Moderna Covid vaccine within months under plans being drawn up by health officials.
Government sources confirmed that trials were now under way to allow secondary school children to be given one of the jabs.
The plans are understood to depend on advice expected this summer from scientists on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The Sunday Times reported that the Pfizer jab could be offered to pupils from September as part of ‘core planning scenario’ documents prepared by NHS officials.
It said Pfizer was the most likely as the manufacturer was the only one so far to produce trial data for under-16s. But a Government source said the Moderna jab could also be used if it passed safety tests.
And he suggested the first jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds could come earlier than September.
The source said: ‘It could be earlier than that if the jabs are deemed to be very safe – depends on how long the regulators take.’
He added: ‘They have to be super safe as children are not at the greatest risk from Covid.
‘You only vaccinate them to protect the rest of the population, including the most vulnerable and the elderly.
‘So you only choose to vaccinate them if Pfizer and Moderna are safe for children.’
He pointed out that AstraZeneca had paused trials on children following concerns over rare blood clots.
Professor Adam Finn, who sits on the JCVI, was reported to have said the decision would also depend on rates of the virus over the next few months.
He said: ‘We need to be in a position to immunise children, particularly teenagers, promptly and efficiently if we need to.’
He reportedly pointed to recent modelling that predicts a third Covid wave will happen after restrictions are lifted on June 21.
If rates rose significantly, it would be a priority to vaccinate children to stop the closure of schools next year. ‘It is extremely important that education in the next academic year is not disrupted in any way.’
But Prof Finn, a paediatrician at Bristol University, stressed that a child vaccination programme might be unnecessary if rates dropped to a low level before the autumn. ‘We should only be doing vaccine programmes when we need to do them,’ he said.
Last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the order of 60 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on top of 40 million already bought.