The government’s vaccines watchdog has recommended Covid vaccinations should be extended to the most clinically vulnerable children aged five to 11, but could wait another month or more before extending them more widely.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which also announced the expansion of the booster programme to some younger teenagers, will for now only recommend vaccines for around 330,000 younger children.
This covers those in a clinical risk group, or live in a household without someone of any age who is immunosuppressed. They will be offered two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with a gap of eight weeks.
The JCVI’s recommendations are UK-wide, though it is then up to the governments of each UK nation to decide whether to accept them.
tuttavia, any more general rollout of vaccines to primary-age children, viewed by ministers as an important element of curbing Covid infections during the winter, is unlikely to begin until after January, or later.
The the UK’s medicine watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for any children the age group, to be given in smaller, 10-microgram doses, rather than the 30-microgram dose used for adults.
The MHRA said it was satisfied that the use of the Pfizer jab in younger children, as already used widely in some other countries, was safe and with minimal side effects beyond slightly sore arms.
tuttavia, the JCVI’s role is to balance any impact of vaccination against the notably lower risks faced from Covid by healthy younger children. The process has been complicated by the rapid spread of the Omicron virus.
Among data to be considered by the JCVI before it decides will be how much protection an initial course of two jabs gives against Omicron, and whether the natural immunity seen in the estimated 40% of younger children already exposed to Covid helps avoid the variant.
tuttavia, the decision to offer jabs to the five to 11 age group more widely is still being paused, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announced, pending the consideration of more data, including on the impact of the Omicron variant.
In a parallel announcement, the JCVI has recommended the rollout of booster vaccinations to those aged 16 e 17; children aged 12-15 who are in a clinical risk group or in a household with someone immunosuppressed; e 12- to 15-year-olds who are severely immunocompromised and who have already had a third primary dose, the same as happens now for immunocompromised adults.
This should happen, again as with adults, no less than three months after the main doses.
Prof Wei Shen Lim, who chairs the JCVI’s Covid panel, disse: “The majority of children aged five to 11 are at very low risk of serious illness due to Covid-19. tuttavia, some five to 11-year-olds have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk, and we advise these children to be vaccinated in the first instance.”
It is understood that one complication for a wider rollout of the vaccine among younger children is how best to administer the smaller doses needed.
The JCVI recommended in September, just as children returned to school after the summer break, Quello 12- to 15-year-olds should be given one dose of the vaccine. It recently suggested they should receive a second dose.
There was some frustration in government that the JCVI’s experts could not have reached a consensus on vaccinating secondary school children earlier, allowing a rollout to begin during the holidays.
Some scientists have been calling for an across-the-board rollout to children to help keep schools open in January and minimise disruption to teaching.
Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist and senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, told the Guardian earlier this month that schooling would “not be feasible” next year without extending the vaccination programme to primary school-age groups.
“There’s been no discussion of how we’re going to protect children in January when schools reopen," lei disse. “The US has vaccinated 5 million children. The EMA [European Medicines Agency] has approved, FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] has approved, there’s no word from the MHRA [the UK regulator] which is quite stunning.”
tuttavia, some medical experts have concerns about the legitimacy of vaccinating children – who tend to experience Covid as a very mild illness – in order to protect the wider population.
The UK’s caution on vaccinating younger children contrasts with the US, where regulator the FDA recommended jabbing five- to 11-year-olds in late October.