Jabs for five-year-olds: Six million primary school children to be offered Covid vaccines

16 February 2022, 17:00 | Updated: 16 February 2022, 18:49

By Asher McShane

Almost six million children in the UK aged five to 11 are to be offered a Covid-19 vaccination after officials said the jabs could protect them against future waves of the virus.

Health secretary Sajid Javid announced all 5 to 11-year-olds in England will be offered a coronavirus jab. It follows the same decision made by Scotland and Wales to expand the rollout of their vaccination programme.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said children should be offered a low-dose Covid jab on a "non-urgent" basis, with the rollout in England expected to start in April.

Youngsters will be offered two 10 microgram doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with an interval of at least 12 weeks between doses.

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The dose for children is a third of the strength of an adult dose, after research showed that the immune response from a lower dose in those aged five to 11 is just as good as a full dose for 16 to 25-year-olds.

Scotland and Wales have already announced their intention to follow the JCVI guidance and offer coronavirus vaccinations to younger children, with England and Northern Ireland now following suit.

The JCVI said that, while the virus does not pose a threat to most children, a very small number who are infected will develop serious disease.

Sajid Javid said guidance from vaccine experts the JCVI is that the jabs are safe and effective for younger children.

Mr Javid said the JCVI advice follows a thorough review by independent medicines regulator, the MHRA, which approved Pfizer’s paediatric vaccine as safe and effective for children aged five to 11.

Mr Javid said: “I have accepted the advice from the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to make a non-urgent offer of COVID-19 vaccines to all children aged five to 11 in England.

“The NHS is already offering vaccines to at-risk children and those who live with immunosuppressed people in this age group.

“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.”

Earlier today Nicola Sturgeon confirmed all children aged five to 11 will be offered coronavirus vaccinations in Scotland.

Her announcement follows the Welsh government in accepting the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Work is now underway on how the vaccines will be delivered, with the Scottish Government in talks with health boards.

"Although it has yet to be published officially by the JCVI, like colleagues in Wales we have received advice from the JCVI which recommends Covid-19 vaccination for all children aged five to 11 years old," Nicola Sturgeon said.

"I can confirm that ministers have considered this draft advice and are content to accept its recommendations.”

It is understood that advice from the JCVI was issued late last week to the UK’s four governments giving the go-ahead to administer shots to children.

While the committee said that there was no rush to roll out the programme, as the Omicron wave had peaked, extending the vaccines would put the country in a better position to cope with another variant.

There have been reports that people on JCVI have expressed “bafflement” at the UK government’s decision to delay publication of its advice.

However sources in the devolved administrations believe it was being kept under wraps for an expected speech by Boris Johnson next week in which he will outline his long-term strategy for living with the virus. This is predicted to include scrapping free Covid tests for everyone.

LBC has also been told of concerns the Treasury may be intervening in the decision to go-ahead with vaccines for five to 11 year olds, given the cost of the vaccination programme.

Nicola Sturgeon added: "Throughout the pandemic it has been our intention that we follow the clinical and scientific evidence available to us and I'd like to once again thank the JCVI for their hard work in scrutinising the science and providing clear guidance."

She added: "Discussions with Health Boards on the best way of delivering vaccinations to five to 11-year-olds have already begun.

"These will continue and we will provide further information when this approach is finalised. In the meantime, parents and carers of children aged between five and 11 need not do anything.

"This draft advice does not affect children in the five to 11-year-old age group who have specific medical conditions which place them at greater risk from Covid-19. This group is already being vaccinated."

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the change could be implemented quickly.

"The Government has been keen to hear this advice from the joint committee and we will act very swiftly to make sure we can implement any recommendations that are made to us."

The Scottish Government will publish an updated strategic framework for dealing with Covid next week.

Mr Swinney added: "Covid has not gone away, it has not disappeared, it has not ended, and anyone who puts that argument around is just misleading people.

"Covid is still out there, it is still a significant threat to public health, we have got to proceed with care."