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Covid vaccination to be extended to all children aged five to 11

Covid vaccination to be extended to all children aged five to 11

All children aged five to 11 are to become eligible for Covid vaccination in England, Scotland and Wales.

The three governments said the decision was based on this now being recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), although it has not yet produced a full report on the new recommendations.

UK health secretary Sajid Javid said the new 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’.

And a JCVI press release said that the ‘latest evidence suggests’ that ‘offering the vaccine 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 across the age group’.

Children aged five to 11 who are in a clinical risk group or a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed have been eligible for Covid vaccination since a JCVI recommendation was accepted across the UK at the end of December.

At the time, it said further advice on Covid jabs for other 5-11s would be ‘issued in due course following consideration of additional data’.

Children in the age group are being offered two 10-microgram doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid jab eight weeks apart, and each dose at least four weeks after any Covid infection.

In a statement made today, JCVI Covid immunisations chair Professor Wei Shen Lim said they had ‘carefully considered the potential direct health impacts of vaccination and potential indirect educational impacts’.

‘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,’ he added.

But he warned that ‘other important childhood vaccinations, such as MMR and HPV, have fallen behind due to the pandemic’ and said it was ‘vital these programmes continue and are not displaced by the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine to this age group’.

In England, the offer will be extended to the age group ‘during April’, according to the health secretary.

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Mr Javid said: ‘I have 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.

‘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 Welsh and Scottish governments said they accepted the JCVI recommendation and would work with health boards to roll out the jabs.

Commenting, experts highlighted that many children have already had Covid but said vaccination would still offer benefits.

Dr Brian Ferguson, associate professor of immunology at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘There is an argument that it is now too late to offer the vaccine to this age group as Covid has torn through primary schools this winter, however, there are children who have not yet been exposed to Covid who will benefit from immunisation.’

In addition, ‘immunological data indicates that vaccination following infection generates powerful, broadly-neutralising antibodies that protect from most or all tested SARS-CoV-2 variants. Covid vaccination can also in some cases help reduce long Covid symptoms’.

‘As such, there remain good reasons to vaccinate children in this age group,’ said Professor Ferguson.

UK public health officials recently called on parents to ensure children have had their MMR vaccines as uptake fell to the lowest level for a decade.

More than one in 10 children have not been fully immunised with MMR before starting school with uptake falling to 85.5% for two doses by the age of five years.

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