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Covid vaccine opened to children as flu campaign extended to secondary schools

Covid vaccine opened to children as flu campaign extended to secondary schools
By Jess Hacker
20 July 2021

Both the Covid-19 and flu vaccine campaigns have been extended to young people, many of whom will be eligible for the programme for the first time.

Yesterday (19 July), the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced that all secondary school pupils will be eligible for the flu vaccine as part of the 2021/22 winter campaign, targeting 35 million people across the UK.

Meanwhile, new JCVI advice – which was also delivered and accepted by the health secretary yesterday – recommended that Covid-19 vaccines should be offered to children in specific risk groups, but should not be routinely administered beyond these.

This includes children aged 12 to 15 with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, multiple or severe learning disabilities, and those who are or live with people who are immunosuppressed.

Flu: boosting campaign to combat lower immunity

Announcing the extension of the flu vaccination scheme, the Government said it is ‘possible there will be higher levels of flu this winter, with more of the population susceptible given the low levels last season’.

The new additions build on last year’s record flu vaccination programme, which saw 19 million people vaccinated after aiming for 30 million, following a boost in the number of eligible groups.

During the 2021/22 season, the full list of those who will be offered the NHS jab is:

  • all children aged two and three on 31 August 2021
  • all children in primary school and all children in school Years 7 to 11 in secondary school
  • those aged six months to 50 years in clinical risk groups
  • pregnant women
  • those aged 50 years and over
  • unpaid carers
  • close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
  • frontline health and adult social care staff.

The Government reiterated it is preparing to deliver the expanded flu programme alongside a potential booster programme for Covid-19 vaccines this autumn and winter.

Last week, a report commissioned by the Government found that influenza levels could peak at 2.2 times the normal level in early autumn, coinciding with an anticipated Covid-19 spike.

Covid: ‘Highly uncertain’ benefits for children

On its new Covid advice, the JCVI clarified that it is ‘not currently advising routine vaccination’ of children outside of these groups, citing evidence that Covid-19 ‘rarely causes severe disease’ in children without underlying health conditions.

It added that the ‘minimal health benefits’ of universal vaccination to children ‘do not outweigh the potential risks’.

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.

Dr Penelope Toff, BMA public health medicine committee co-chair, said: ‘It is vital that those eligible include adolescents living in multi-generational households and communities, particularly in more deprived areas where we know older and vulnerable family members are at greater risk of severe illness.’

She added the BMA is glad to hear the JCVI will keep this guidance under review, particularly given increasing numbers of people reporting long Covid symptoms.

The latest data suggests an estimated 962,000 people in the UK have self-reported experiencing long Covid symptoms lasting more than four weeks.

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