High-risk children over 12 to get Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as soon as possible

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Those now eligible include children aged 12-15 with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and profound or multiple learning disabilities. Children aged 12-17 who live with someone who is immunosuppressed, such as a patient with blood cancer, will also qualify. And teenagers within three months of their 18th birthday will be invited too.

Vulnerable youngsters aged 16 and 17 were already able to get a jab, such as Hope Cuthbert, 17, who suffers from a hole in the heart. She got hers in Motherwell last March.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told the Commons yesterday: “Together with health ministers in all parts of the UK, the Secretary of State has accepted this advice and asked the NHS to put it into action as soon as possible.

“We will be using the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine which is the only vaccine that the UK has clinically authorised for people between the ages of 12 and 17.

“I know that people will have questions about what it means for them and their children but I can assure them that nobody needs to come forward at this stage.

“The NHS will get in touch with them at the right time and they will make sure that the jabs are delivered in a setting that meets their needs.”

The JCVI decided against mass vaccination of all children because it found the minimal health benefits did not outweigh the risks.

Fewer than 30 children had died of Covid by March and most had underlying health conditions.

There is limited data on jab safety in children with rare reports of heart inflammation following the Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

One in 20,000 children may be affected by such a side effect.

Mr Zahawi said the JCVI will keep the decision not to vaccinate all over-12s “under review”.

He said: “The steps we are taking today mean we will be offering even more vulnerable people the protection that a vaccine brings and we will all be safer as a result.”

The minister said the hospitalisation rate for children and young people during the second wave was between 100 and 400 for every million. Most of those had underlying health conditions.

Professor Anthony Harnden, of the JCVI, said: “Based on the fact that previously well children, if they do get Covid-19, are likely to have a very mild form, the health benefits of vaccinating them are small.”

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