The UK Covid-19 vaccination rollout is likely to be extended to all children aged five to 11, a health expert has claimed.
Under current rules, only those in a clinical risk group, or who are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed, are being offered the jab.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended vaccinating vulnerable children in December, but are yet to approve the jab for everyone in this age group.
However, with high coronavirus case numbers currently causing staff shortages across various public sectors, including schools, due to people isolating, it is thought that the vaccine rollout may be extended to help minimise disruption to young people’s education.
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What’s been said?
Professor Russell Viner, professor of child and adolescent health at University College London, has suggested that the “balance of risks” point towards vaccinating all five to 11 year olds when the impact of school disruption from Covid-19 is taken into account.
Prof Viner told the i: “Five to 11s are probably the group least affected by Covid disease.
The thing about Covid is it’s got the most extraordinary age risk profile… to be honest, five to 11 is the healthiest time of our life.
“It’s the time when we’re least likely to die or get sick from almost anything, and that is true of Covid.
“However, I expect and I would like [the Government] to include educational disruption and mental health issues in the decision, which is what happened with teenagers.
“I think it’s a very marginal medical decision, but if you include those broader issues, I think given the extremely promising safety profile in children – I don’t want to second-guess the JCVI – but I think the balance of risks is towards vaccination.”
Is the vaccine safe for children?
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recommended two 10 micrograms doses of the Pfizer vaccine at an interval of eight weeks between the first and second doses for vulnerable five to 11 year olds.
The formulation has been specially designed for this age group and is given at a lower dose compared to that used in children aged 12 and over.
Professor Viner added that current data suggests the risk of myocarditis – an extremely rare side effect of some Covid-19 vaccines which causes inflammation of the heart – is far lower in primary-school-age children compared to older teens.
But he warned that vaccinating all youngsters could be difficult, as little ones care “much more likely to get distressed”.
Additionally, as the jabs for five to 11-year-olds contain a lower amount of the vaccine, the NHS would have to ensure a steady supply of the paediatric dose to centres and train staff in administering it.
He said: “There’s a whole lot of complexities about vaccinating children that I’m sure that the NHS is thinking through, but this won’t be easy.
“It won’t be as if the JCVI announces it and a month later we have all our children vaccinated.”
How will a decision on vaccinating more children be made?
The JCVI has said further advice on extending the Covid-19 vaccination rollout to all five to 11 year olds will be issued “in due course following consideration of additional data.”
The JCVI will first consider the following data before a decision is made:
- updated estimates of the proportion of children aged five to 11 years who have already been infected
- the level of protection afforded against Covid-19 disease due to the Omicron variant from previous coronavirus infection
- post-marketing adverse event reporting data from the international use of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in those aged five to 11 years
- considerations from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and other government departments on the potential educational impacts (both benefits and disbenefits) of Covid-19 vaccination in those aged five to 11 years
This article originally appeared on our sister site, NationalWorld.