All children aged five to 11 in the UK will be offered a low dose COVID vaccine after England and Northern Ireland became the latest of the four nations to offer those in that age group the jab.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that the UK government’s vaccine advisory body – the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – had advised the jab rollout be expanded to ensure everyone in that cohort is eligible for the jab and that ministers have taken on board this recommendation.
He added that the NHS in England will “prepare to extend this non-urgent offer to all children during April”.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s health minister Robin Swann announced that the country would be carrying out the same move.
Scotland and Wales have already said that children aged five to 11 will be offered the jab, meaning almost six million individuals in this age group across the UK will now be eligible for the vaccine.
Javid confirms jab rollout for healthy children in England
Mr Javid said he has accepted the advice from the JCVI to make a non-urgent offer of COVID-19 vaccines to all children aged five to 11 in England and that the jab is “safe and effective”.
Stressing to reporters that “this is a non-urgent offer”, he added: “It is something that’s there as an option for parents and they should decide for themselves whether it’s an offer that they want to take up, and all the information they need would be made available for them.”
In a statement confirming the plans, the health secretary said: “The JCVI advice follows a thorough review by our independent medicines regulator, the MHRA, which approved Pfizer’s paediatric vaccine as safe and effective for children aged five to 11.
“Children without underlying health conditions are at low risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and the priority remains for the NHS to offer vaccines and boosters to adults and vulnerable young people, as well as to catch-up with other childhood immunisation programmes.
“The NHS will prepare to extend this non-urgent offer to all children during April so parents can, if they want, take up the offer to increase protection against potential future waves of COVID-19 as we learn to live with this virus.”
The JCVI said the move is being made “with a view to increasing protection against potential future waves of COVID-19”.
The vaccine advisory body said that while five to 11-year-olds are “generally at very low risk of serious illness from the virus”, a “very small number of children who get infected do develop severe disease”.
They add that the latest evidence suggests that offering the coronavirus vaccine to this age group ahead of another potential wave will protect this very small number of children from serious illness and hospitalisation and will also provide some short-term protection against mild infection for all those who take up the offer of the jab.
JCVI recommend 12 weeks between doses
The JCVI are therefore advising that all five to 11-year-olds are given two 10mcg doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with an interval of at least 12 weeks between the two doses.
Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair of COVID-19 immunisation at the JCVI, said: “The main purpose of offering vaccination to 5-11 year olds is to increase their protection against severe illness in advance of a potential future wave of COVID-19.
“Other important childhood vaccinations, such as MMR and HPV, have fallen behind due to the pandemic. It is vital these programmes continue and are not displaced by the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to this age group.”
JCVI given confidence by rollout in US and Germany
Why the change of heart by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation?
Why now do the experts recommend all young children are vaccinated, when before it was just those with clinical risk factors?
As always with medicines it comes down to risk and benefit.
Older children, particularly boys, have a very rare risk of a heart problem called myocarditis, which is why the JCVI agonised over the rollout to 12 to 15-year-olds.
The delay in making a decision has meant there is now more data on the safety of the jab in younger children.
The US, Canada, Israel and Ireland have immunised millions of under-11s – and there is no evidence of any problems.
Ultimately what swung it for the JCVI was the really small risk of hospitalisation in young children.
Of all age groups, 5 to 11-year-olds have the lowest risk of serious disease.
But if even a tiny number avoid serious disease and perhaps death, then giving a safe vaccine will have been worthwhile, they argue.
Confirming the same move earlier in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said work was “under way on the logistics of delivery” and parents and carers would receive more information as soon as possible.
Announcing the move, Health minister Eluned Morgan said she had received the “yet to be published” final advice from the JCVI.
There has been a delay to the official announcement, reportedly because of disagreements between the UK government and the JCVI – with an announcement expected on 21 February.
Facing questions in a Plenary session at the Senedd, Baroness Morgan said the delay was a “shame” and “perplexing”.
Similarly, Ms Sturgeon said earlier today: “Although it isn’t yet published, I can confirm that the Scottish government has received advice from [the] JCVI recommending that vaccination is offered to all 5-11 year olds.”
Although it isn’t yet published, I can confirm that @scotgov has received advice from JCVI recommending that vaccination is offered to all 5-11 yr olds. We will accept this advice & work is now underway on the logistics of delivery. Parents/carers will receive further info asap. https://t.co/058r5Xsyu6
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) February 16, 2022
Pfizer already approved for use in children
Clinically vulnerable children aged five to 11 in all four nations have already been offered the vaccine.
This came after the JCVI updated its guidance in December to suggest that children aged five to 11 who are clinically at risk or live with someone who is immunosuppressed should be offered the vaccine.
Last year, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the Pfizer vaccine for use in children aged five to 11.
The age group above, 12 to 15-year-olds, started getting their first vaccines in England at the end of September and have been able to get their second jab from just before Christmas as long as their first was at least 12 weeks before.