Covid-19 vaccines will be offered to children in specific risk groups, but will not be routinely administered beyond these, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has now confirmed.
New JCVI advice – which was delivered and accepted by the health secretary today (19 July) – has set out that children at increased risk of serious Covid-19 disease are offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
This includes children aged 12 to 15 with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities, it said.
Children and young people aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person should be offered the vaccine, it added.
This comes as the Government announced its expanded national flu vaccination programme this winter will target 25 million people, including all secondary school pupils for the first time.
The committee clarified: ‘The JCVI is not currently advising routine vaccination of children outside of these groups, based on the current evidence.’
It cited evidence that Covid-19 ‘rarely causes severe disease’ in children without underlying health conditions and that the ‘minimal health benefits’ of universal vaccination to children ‘do not outweigh the potential risks’.
However, it said it was ‘reasonable’ to allow a lead-in time to offer vaccination to children who are within 3 months of their 18th birthday to ensure good uptake.
‘Highly uncertain’ benefits
JCVI’s deputy chair Professor Anthony Harnden said that the primary aim of the vaccination programme is to prevent hospitalisations and deaths.
‘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,’ he said.
‘We will keep this advice under review as more safety and effectiveness information becomes available.’
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed he has accepted the JCVI’s guidance and had asked the NHS to prepare to vaccinate the new group as soon as possible.
‘Today’s advice does not recommend vaccinating under-18s without underlying health conditions at this point in time. But the JCVI will continue to review new data, and consider whether to recommend vaccinating under-18s without underlying health conditions at a future date,’ he said.