The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) said it has updated its advice regarding Covid-19 vaccinations for children aged between five to 11 to help prevent “severe” Covid-19 illness.
However, the JCVI also says that “Children aged 5 to 11 years who are not in a COVID-19 clinical risk group are at extremely low risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease”.
And that for “vaccination to have a substantial impact on school absences, persistent high levels of vaccine-induced protection against non-severe infection are required”.
But it said the offer to vaccinate children was a “one-off pandemic response programme”.
It comes after the Welsh government become the first UK nation to announce it will offer Covid vaccinations to all five to 11-year-olds. Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that all children aged five to 11 in Scotland will be offered jabs.
However and Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid has said the offer is “non-urgent” and would be made to all children in England April.
The JCVI updated it’s advice at 5pm last night (Wednesday, February 16).
It says the “JCVI advises a non-urgent offer of two 10 mcg doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (Comirnaty®) to children aged 5 to 11 years of age who are not in a clinical risk group”.
This is a lower dose of the vaccine than is given to adults.
“The intention of this offer is to increase the immunity of vaccinated individuals against severe COVID-19 in advance of a potential future wave of COVID-19,” added the JCVI.
“This advice on the offer of vaccination to 5 to 11-year olds who are not in a clinical risk group is considered by JCVI as a one-off pandemic response programme.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic moves further towards endemicity in the UK, JCVI will review whether, in the longer term, an offer of vaccination to this, and other pediatric age groups, continues to be advised.”
“Most children aged 5 to 11 have asymptomatic or mild disease following infection with SARS-CoV-2. Some may experience post-COVID-19 symptoms lasting longer than a few days.
“Children aged 5 to 11 years who are not in a COVID-19 clinical risk group are at extremely low risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease.
“Of those admitted to hospital over the last few weeks comprising the Omicron wave, the average length of hospital stay was 1 to 2 days.
“A proportion of these admissions are for precautionary reasons.”
Officials have cautioned that the rollout should not interrupt vaccine programs for other childhood illnesses such as measles or the HPV jab.
Adam Finn, professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol and member of the JCVI, said: “The risks posed by Covid in this age group are low but they exist and parents may wish to reduce them by having their children immunised.
“The program will not impact significantly on the current Omicron wave in children but may reduce the risks children may face in a possible future wave of this or another variant.
“Common side effects such as fever, headaches and malaise do occur in some children following this vaccine but do not last more than a day or two in most cases. Nevertheless, they may result in some school absence.
“More serious side effects are reported in this age group but are extremely rare and are minimized by using a lower vaccine dose than in adults and a wide 12-week interval between the two doses.
“It will be important that the deployment of this part of the Covid vaccine program does not result in children failing to receive doses of other important vaccines, for example against meningitis, cervical cancer and measles, in a timely way.”
Matt Keeling, professor of populations and disease at the University of Warwick, said: “It’s great to see this statement made public, and I’m sure it will be a substantial relief to many parents.
“We now have a very good understanding of the risks from the mRNA vaccines, and therefore know that the risks to this age group, who receive a smaller dose, are minimal.”
He added: “Covid-19 remains primarily a disease of the elderly and vulnerable. Therefore, while the offer to vaccinate five to 11-year-olds will be welcomed by many, we should not expect it to have a large impact on the overall level of severe disease.”
Dr Simon Williams, senior lecturer in people and organization at Swansea University, said: “A growing amount of data and research suggests that many parents, including parents of younger children, want the choice of a vaccine.
“Research, including our own study, found that public and parents views on children’s vaccination are complex and often divided.
“However, a number of polls, including one by Ipsos Mori last year, found that a majority of parents, including parents of younger children, would want their child to get vaccinated if possible.
Dr Peter English, retired consultant in communicable disease control, said: “The evidence is overwhelming that the vaccine is safe in children.”
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