Vulnerable children to be offered COVID-19 jabs under updated JCVI advice

COVID-19 vaccination for children at increased risk of severe COVID-19 will be rolled out 'as soon as possible' under updated JCVI advice - but officials have ruled out jabs for all under 18s at this stage.

COVID-19 vaccination centre (Photo: Justin Tallis/Getty Images)
COVID-19 vaccination centre (Photo: Justin Tallis/Getty Images)

Children aged 12-15 years old with conditions that put them at increased risk from COVID-19 - including those with severe neurodisabilities, immunosuppression, Down's syndrome, and those with multiple or severe learning disabilities will be offered the Pfizer vaccine.

People aged 12-17 years old who live with an immunosuppressed person will also be offered vaccination against COVID-19 at this stage, while the jab has already been offered to people in at risk groups who are aged 16 or 17.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that it had considered available evidence for vaccination of all children, and concluded that it 'does not currently advise routine universal vaccination of children and young people less than 18 years of age'.

COVID-19 vaccination

The stance will be kept under review, but the JCVI said that based on current information 'the health benefits of universal vaccination in children and young people below the age of 18 years do not outweigh the potential risks'.

JCVI advice said that 'evidence strongly indicates that almost all children and young people are at very low risk from COVID-19', and that where symptoms occurred they were 'typically mild'.

Fewer than 30 deaths were recorded in patients aged under 18 from COVID-19 in England between February 2020 and March 2021 and the hospitalisation rate was between 100 and 400 per million, and 'most of those hospitalised had severe underlying health conditions', the guidance said.

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: 'Today’s advice from the independent JCVI means more vulnerable young people at greatest risk from this virus can now benefit from COVID-19 vaccines. I have accepted their expert recommendations and I have asked the NHS to prepare to vaccinate those eligible as soon as possible.

Pfizer vaccine

'Our independent medicines regulator, the MHRA, has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for people aged 12 and over. Today’s advice does not recommend vaccinating under-18s without underlying health conditions at this point in time.

'But the JCVI will continue to review new data, and consider whether to recommend vaccinating under-18s without underlying health conditions at a future date.'

JCVI deputy chair Professor Anthony Harnden said: 'The primary aim of the vaccination programme has always been to prevent hospitalisations and deaths. Based on the fact that previously well children, if they do get COVID-19, are likely to have a very mild form of the disease, the health benefits of vaccinating them are small.

'The benefits of reducing transmission to the wider population from children are also highly uncertain, especially as vaccine uptake is very high in older people who are at highest risk from serious COVID-19 infection.'

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine authorised for children in the UK, and is approved for those aged 12 or older.

The updated JCVI advice follows an announcement from the government that it had offered a first dose of vaccine to all of the UK's 52.6m adults. A total of 87.9% of UK adults have now received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 68.5% have received both doses.

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