Updated guidance published on 22 December said that children aged between 5 and 11 who are in clinical at-risk groups as defined in the Green Book, or who are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed, should receive two 10 microgram doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, eight weeks apart. This is a smaller dose than the standard 30 microgram dose adults and older children receive.
The JCVI said it would be publishing further advice on vaccination for other children in this age group after it had considered 'additional data'. This included information on the proportion of children who had already had COVID-19 and data on the level of protection a previous infection provided against the Omicron variant.
Meanwhile, the committee also recommended that children aged 12- to 17-years old should receive a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at least three months after their second dose, or third dose if they are immunosuppressed.
Benefits of vaccination
The committee said that when deciding on whether to vaccinate children ageed 5 to 11 it had focused on the potential 'benefits and harms of vaccination to children and young people themselves'.
'The benefits and risks from COVID-19 vaccination in children and young people are finely balanced largely because the risks associated with SARS-CoV2 infection are very low,' the JCVI said. 'Of all age groups, children aged 5 to 11 years are those at lowest risks of serious COVID-19.'
However, the committee concluded that 'at the current time the balance of potential benefits and harms is in favour of offering vaccination to children aged 5 to 11 years who are in a clinical risk group'.
'Children aged 5 to 11 years old who are not in a clinical risk group but are household contacts of a immunosuppressed individual (of any age) should also be offered COVID-19 vaccination on the understanding that the main indication for vaccination is to indirectly increase protection of the person who is immunosuppressed,' it added.
The JCVI advised that rollout of booster jabs to those aged 12 to 17 should be prioritised in order of descending age group or clinical risk. Those with underlying health conditions that place them at greater risk from COVID-19 should be prioritised, it said.
The Green Book currently describes children aged 12 to 15 who are at risk as those with:
- Chronic respiratory disease - including those with poorly controlled asthma
- Chronic heart conditions
- Chronic conditions of the kidney, liver or digestive system
- Chronic neurological disease - including cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, severe learning disabilities and Down's syndrome
- Endocrine disorders, including diabetes
- Asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen
- Serious genetic abnormalities that affect a number of systems
See the Green Book here for the full list of clinical risk groups for children.