Vulnerable children as young as 12 to get COVID vaccines, government announces

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Watch: COVID-19: Clinically vulnerable children will be offered COVID vaccines

The government has announced that vulnerable children as young as 12 will be offered COVID vaccines.

During a statement in the Commons, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) had recommended that children aged 12 to 17 be given a jab if they are in a vulnerable group.

He also said that all 17-year-olds who turn 18 in less than three months will be able to get a jab.

The JCVI is also continuing to review evidence around vaccinating all over-12s.

The move means thousands of children in the UK aged 12 to 15 with conditions like severe neurodisabilities, Down syndrome, immunosuppression, or multiple or severe learning disabilities can access COVID vaccines.

Read: UK hits highest rate of COVID cases in the world as all restrictions lift on ‘Freedom Day’

The JCVI has also said those aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person, such as a parent or grandparent, should be offered a vaccine.

This is to protect loved ones at home who are at higher risk of serious coronavirus and who may not get the full immune protection from their own COVID vaccines.

Year eight pupils wear face masks as a precaution against the transmission of the novel coronavirus. (Getty)
Year eight pupils wear face masks as a precaution against the transmission of the novel coronavirus. (Getty)

Under existing guidance, young people aged 16 to 17 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious COVID should have already been offered a jab.

The vaccines minister said: "(The JCVI) recommends expanding the offer of the vaccine to some younger children with underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of COVID-19. This includes children aged 12 to 15 with severe neurodisabilities, Down's syndrome, immunosuppression and profound or multiple learning disabilities.

"The JCVI advice also recommends offering a vaccine to children and young people aged 12 to 17 who live with someone who is immunosuppressed. This means we can indirectly protect the immunosuppressed, who are at higher risk of serious disease from COVID-19 and may not generate a full immune response to vaccinations.

"The JCVI advises that we should offer the vaccine to all 17-year-olds who are within three months of their 18th birthday so we can make sure they are protected as soon as they turn 18."

Watch: COVID-19 hospitalisations rise among unvaccinated

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has already approved the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use among children aged 12 and over in the UK.

Fewer than 30 children have died of COVID-19 in the UK as of March, and COVID rarely causes severe disease in children without underlying health conditions.

Real-world data on the safety of the jabs in children is currently limited, but there have been rare reports of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane around the heart) following the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in millions of younger adults.

The incidence of these issues is put at around one in 20,000 people, though this is a broad estimate.

The JCVI said that until more safety data is provided and evaluated, it is adopting a precautionary approach.

A US clinical trial in about 1,000 children aged 12 to 15 found that if youngsters suffered any side-effects from the Pfizer jab, they were only short-lived and mild.

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.

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"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."

Regarding long COVID, experts say it is not currently clear that vaccination prevents such illness and therefore a mass vaccination programme could not be implemented with the hope of preventing it.

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