The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended that all 5–11-year-olds be offered two doses of the Pfizer Covid vaccine.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said he had accepted these recommendations after a ‘thorough review’ of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine for this age group.
The programme is already extended to at-risk children within this 5-11 group, but this latest move will see all children from the age group eligible for two doses of the vaccine, given with an interval of at least 12 weeks.
However, the health secretary said the offer for two doses of the vaccine was a ‘non-urgent’ offer and will be extended to parents of these children ‘during April’.
Vaccine will offer protection against mild infection
The 5-11 age group is generally very low risk of serious illness from Covid, according to the JCVI. But it said this move would protect a very small number of children from serious illness and hospitalisation and provide ‘short-term protection against mild infection’.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid-19 immunisation on the JCVI, said: ‘The Committee has 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.’
However, he added that it was important the Covid vaccine not ‘displace’ other vaccination programmes for children of this age group.
He said: ‘Other important childhood vaccinations, such as MMR and HPV, have fallen behind due to the pandemic. It is vital these programmes continue and are not displaced by the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine to this age group.’
It comes after the rate of uptake of childhood vaccinations around the world has fallen sharply during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a 20% drop in the uptake of MMR vaccination in the first three weeks of Covid restrictions.
Priority remains adults and vulnerable young people
Mr Javid said the NHS’s priority remains delivering vaccines and boosters to adults and vulnerable young people, and to catch up with other childhood immunisations.
He 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 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 this month, the JCVI recommended moving to a one-dose schedule for the HPV vaccination to simplify the vaccine schedule and free up funding and resources that can be deployed to strengthen the adolescent immunisation programmes.