Millions of children are being offered a Covid vaccine, including all 16- to 17-year-olds, and at-risk 12- to 15-year-olds.
However, healthy children aged 12-15 and those who are younger are not being offered the jab.
Which children are being offered the vaccine?
Those aged 12 to 15 are eligible for two doses if they are at higher risk due to:
- Severe neurodisability (which could include cerebral palsy, autism or epilepsy)
- Down’s syndrome
- A severely weakened immune system, including some children with cancer
- Profound and multiple learning difficulties
A further 200,000 children in this age group who have chronic heart, lung and liver conditions should also be given two doses, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has now said.
Children of the same age who live with people who have a suppressed immune system can also be vaccinated, to protect family members.
Will all UK children be offered the vaccine?
It says children are at such low risk from the virus that vaccination would offer only “marginal gain”.
However it said the government should consider wider issues before making a final decision, including the impact of disruption to schools. Ministers across the UK have asked chief medical officers to investigate.
There is no vaccine currently approved for use in the under-12s in the UK.
Which vaccine will children get?
Will parents have to give permission for children to have the vaccine?
16 and 17-year-olds do not need the permission of a parent to have the vaccine, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
The NHS says that children under 16 can consent “if they’re believed to have enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what’s involved in their treatment”. This is known as being “Gillick competent”..
Otherwise, a parent will have to give permission.
Is the Covid vaccine safe for children?
No medicine is completely safe and all are a balance of risk and benefit.
But the Pfizer jab wouldn’t have been approved for UK use if it wasn’t considered safe.
The vaccine has been linked to incredibly rare cases of inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) and of the sac the heart beats inside (pericarditis). This was found to be more common in younger men and after a second dose.
But the European Medicines Agency – which approves vaccines for the European Union – says there have been one-to-two cases per million people given the vaccine. Nearly everyone made a full recovery.
What are other countries doing?
Many countries have already decided to vaccinate children over the age of 12 – including Canada and Brazil.
The EU approved the Pfizer vaccine for over-12s in May – after a study found a similar immune response in 12- to 15-year-olds as for 16- to 25-year-olds. Children were also found to experience the same common side effects, such as headaches.
Both Pfizer and Moderna are conducting trials of their vaccines on children as young as six months old.
How many children have died from Covid?
Almost all children and young people are at very low risk from Covid-19.
Data for England suggests about 25 children died from Covid in the first 12 months of the pandemic.
The majority of them also had severe health problems, including complex neurodisabilities.
Only six had no recorded health conditions.