Under previous advice, teens aged 16 to 17 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious Covid should have already been offered a jab. The latest announcement extends the vaccine rollout to more vulnerable children.
Vulnerable children between the ages of 12 and 15 will now be offered a Covid vaccine. Those who’ll be offered a jab include children with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities.
The vaccine will also be offered to 17-year-olds who are within three months of their 18th birthday.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has also recommended that children and young people aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person be offered the vaccine, to indirectly protect their immunosuppressed household contacts.
The medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has already approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use among children aged 12 and over in the UK, so it is likely this is the vaccine they will receive.
The government has said it will continue to review whether or not to offer the vaccine to all under 18s.
The caution is due to a lack of available trial data, says Helen Bedford, Professor of Children’s Health at UCL. There’s also a careful balancing act between the benefits of the vaccine vs any potential negative impacts on kids.
“Healthy young people and children become seriously ill with COVID-19 extremely rarely, so there would be few direct benefits for them of vaccination but it would contribute to increasing population immunity,” she explains. “Before recommending vaccination for all children and young people we therefore need to be very clear about of the safety of the vaccines in this group.
“Although there is now good trial data and experience of vaccinating very large numbers of adults and the vaccines have been shown to be safe, we cannot automatically assume this applies to children. More information is needed from trials and experience of using these vaccines in young people and children before the programme is rolled out further.”
Nearly half of European countries have decided to offer the vaccine to children aged 12 and over, including France, Spain, Italy and Austria. Some vaccination programmes have started, while others are imminent, with plans to vaccinate children before the new school term in September widespread.
While children are less likely to suffer severe illness from coronavirus, they aren’t untouchable. Hundreds of children in the UK are struggling with long Covid months after becoming sick.
In rare instances, some children have developed a multi-system inflammatory syndrome linked to Covid-19 which can lead to organ damage. Scientists will consider this when continuing to weigh up the pros and cons of vaccines.