Children aged between 12 and 17 and are classified as vulnerable, or who live with someone who is, are now able to receive the vaccine. It has been announced these children will receive the Pfizer jab. Other children over 12 will not yet be receiving the vaccine however as experts investigate a number of cases of the vaccine causing heart inflammation.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Today’s advice from the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (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.
“Young people aged 12 to 15 with severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s Syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities, as well as people who are household contacts of individuals who are immunosuppressed, will be eligible for vaccination soon.
“Our independent medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for people aged 12 and over as it meets their robust standards of safety, effectiveness and quality.
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“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.
“COVID-19 vaccines have saved almost 37,000 lives and prevented around 11.7 million infections in England alone. They are building a wall of defence and are the best way to protect people from serious illness. I encourage everybody who is eligible to get their jabs as soon as they can.”
As evidence shows that COVID-19 rarely causes severe disease in children without underlying health conditions, at this time the JCVI’s view is that the minimal health benefits of offering universal COVID-19 vaccination to children do not outweigh the potential risks.
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Those deemed vulnerable include children with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, a suppressed immune system or severe learning disabilities.
The group also includes any 12- to 17-year-olds who live with a family member who is immunosuppressed will also be offered a jab.
Children aged 16 or 17 with such conditions already qualified under the existing rollout.
All children who are 17, but turn 18 in less than three months, will also be offered the jab immediately.
This is to ensure those who are the youngest in their school year have been vaccinated by the time they enter the workforce or start university.
Professor Anthony Harnden, Deputy Chair of the JCVI, 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.
“We will keep this advice under review as more safety and effectiveness information becomes available.”
Operationally, it is considered reasonable to allow a lead-in time to offer vaccination to children who are within three months of their 18th birthday to ensure good uptake in newly turned 18-year-olds.