The COVID-19 vaccine saves lives and studies have shown it has been clearly effective in reducing deaths and hospitalisations. The vaccine rollout was prioritised to reduce infections or the severity of infections in those who are most at risk from the illness. The likelihood of children becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 is thankfully very low, however, some children are at increased risk such as those with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression, sickle cell disease, type 1 diabetes and multiple or severe learning disabilities. I am pleased that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved as safe and effective in children aged 12 and over by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
A Second Dose to be given to Young People aged 12 to 15 years (29th November 2021)
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) previously advised that those aged over 40 years and those at higher risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) should be offered a booster. This new JCVI advice means those aged 18 to 39 will also be eligible for a booster when the NHS calls them forward. The booster will be offered in order of descending age groups, with priority given to the vaccination of older adults and those in a COVID-19 at-risk group. In response to the changing risk posed by the Omicron variant, the booster will now be given no sooner than 3 months after the primary course. All eligible adults in England aged 18 and over will be offered a COVID-19 booster vaccine by the end of January.
In addition, a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (30 microgram) for young people aged 12 to 15 years is advised no sooner than 12 weeks after the first dose. The overall intention of the measures advised above is to accelerate the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines and raise levels of protection across the population. JCVI will continue to review the programme and consider further evidence to ensure that health benefits are maximised alongside the rapidly evolving data on the Omicron variant.
Our booster programme has already seen over 17.5 million adults receive a third vaccine dose and the Government will continue to review and strengthen our wall of defence to protect people from a serious illness. View the JCVI’s advice on the UK vaccine response to the Omicron variant in full.
Previous Update: Government Accepts JCVI Advice Offer a Second Dose to People Aged 16 to 17 (16th November 2021)
The Government has announced that we are extending our vaccine programme to second doses to 16- and 17-year-olds. The Government urges everyone to get their jabs as soon as possible as we continue to build a wall of defence against this virus.
We know that immunity to COVID-19 begins to wane after 6 months and new data shows that boosters give over 90% protection against symptomatic COVID-19 in adults over 50. That is why the Government is expanding our phenomenal vaccine programme on the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – offering a booster jab to 40 – 49-year-olds and offering a second vaccine dose to 16 – 17-year-olds. The JCVI will keep under review whether the booster programme should be extended all people under 40.
As with all groups that have been offered the vaccine, the considerations of risks from COVID-19 have been assessed against vaccination. A second dose both increases and is important for extending the duration of the protection offered by vaccines, which is vital for young people aged 16-17 who are moving towards adulthood, higher education and/or the workplace, and are at a pivotal point in their education. View the Health and Social Care Secretary’s comments following the Government’s decision to accept JCVI advice on COVID-19 vaccination programme.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine for children aged 12 to 15
The view of the MHRA, the JCVI and international regulators is that there is an advantage to someone aged 12 to 15 of being vaccinated over being unvaccinated. The COVID-19 Delta variant is highly infectious and very common, so the great majority of the unvaccinated will get COVID-19. In those aged 12 to 15, COVID-19 rarely, but occasionally, leads to serious illness, hospitalisation and even less commonly death. The risks of vaccination are also very rare. UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) looked at wider public health benefits and risks of universal vaccination in this age group to determine if this shifts the risk-benefit either way.
Of these, the most important in this age group was impact on education. UK CMOs also considered the impact on mental health and operational issues such as any possible negative impact on other vaccine programmes, noting that influenza vaccination and other immunisations of children and young people are well-established, important, and that the annual flu vaccine deployment programme commences imminently.
The UK CMOs consider education to be one of the most important drivers of improved public and mental health. Evidence consistently makes clear the massive impact that absent, or disrupted, face-to-face education has had on the welfare and mental health of many young people. There can be lifelong effects on health if extended disruption to education leads to reduced life chances.
Whilst full closures of schools due to lockdowns is much less likely to be necessary in the next stages of the COVID-19 epidemic, UK CMOs expect the epidemic to continue to be prolonged and unpredictable. Local surges of infection, including in schools, should be anticipated for some time. Where they occur, they are likely to be disruptive.
On balance UK CMOs judge that it is likely vaccination will help reduce transmission of COVID-19 in schools attended by children and young people aged 12 to 15 years. COVID-19 is a disease which can be very effectively transmitted by mass spreading events, especially with the Delta variant. Having a significant proportion of pupils vaccinated is likely to reduce the probability of such events which are likely to cause local outbreaks in, or associated with, schools. They will also reduce the chance an individual child gets COVID-19.
The coronavirus vaccines are safe and effective. 1 dose is being offered to children aged 12 to 15 to give them the best protection against COVID-19. This includes children who turn 12 on the date of vaccination. Some children are being offered 2 doses of a vaccine for those who are at high risk from COVID-19.
Most children will be given their vaccines at school during school hours. As a parent or guardian, you will get a letter or email with information about when the vaccine will be offered this autumn. You will be asked if you're OK with your child having a COVID-19 vaccine. If your child misses their COVID-19 vaccination, for any reason, they will be offered it again at a later date. If your child has tested positive for COVID-19, they need to wait 4 weeks before they can have a COVID-19 vaccine.
Children who do not go to school, for example, if they are home-schooled, will also be offered a vaccine. You will be contacted about when and where your child can get one.
School immunisation teams will visit schools to give the vaccine. All children will be observed for 15 minutes after having the vaccination. This is in the unlikely event they have a serious reaction to the vaccine. Research has found it's very rare to have a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine. If this does happen, it usually happens within minutes. Immunisation teams are trained to deal with reactions and treat them immediately.
Millions of children around the world have already had a COVID-19 vaccine. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has confirmed the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is safe and effective for children aged 12 to 15. This followed an extensive review of the safety, quality and effectiveness of the vaccine in this age group. The vaccine continues to be closely monitored to ensure this.
JCVI issues advice on COVID-19 vaccination of children and young people (19 July 2021)
Following a request from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for advice on a possible extension of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has looked at the available evidence around vaccinating children and young people under the age of 18.
From today, the JCVI is advising that children at increased risk of serious COVID-19 disease are offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That includes children aged 12 to 15 with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities.
The JCVI also recommends that children and young people aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person should be offered the vaccine. This is to indirectly protect their immunosuppressed household contacts, who are at higher risk of serious disease from COVID-19 and may not generate a full immune response to vaccination.
Under existing advice, young people aged 16 to 17 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious COVID-19 should have already been offered vaccination.
Further details regarding other specific underlying health conditions for which an offer of COVID-19 vaccination is advised will be provided in the Green Book: Immunisation against infectious disease.
Additionally, operationally, it is considered reasonable to allow a lead-in time to offer vaccination to those children who are within three months of their 18th birthday to ensure good uptake of vaccine in newly-turned 18 year olds.
The JCVI is not currently advising routine vaccination of children outside of these groups, based on the current evidence. As evidence shows that COVID-19 rarely causes severe disease in children without underlying health conditions, at this time the JCVI’s view is that the minimal health benefits of offering universal COVID-19 vaccination to children do not outweigh the potential risks.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine that has been authorised for children in the UK, for those aged 12 or older. This followed a US clinical trial in around 1,000 children aged 12 to 15 that found side effects in this group were generally short lived and mild to moderate.
To view the JCVI statement on COVID-19 vaccination of children and young people aged 12 to 17 years, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-vaccination-of-children-and-young-people-aged-12-to-17-years-jcvi-statement/jvci-statement-on-covid-19-vaccination-of-children-and-young-people-aged-12-to-17-years-15-july-2021.
COVID-19 Vaccine for 16-17 year olds
In August the Government announced that 16 and 17 year olds will be offered COVID-19 vaccination. Given the ongoing success of the adult vaccination programme, the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) reviewed the advice for the vaccination of children and young people. That is why the Government has accepted the expert recommendations of the JCVI, which weighed up the benefits of any vaccine against the possible, although extremely rare, side effects, and will be offering the Covid-19 vaccine to 16 and 17 year olds.
To view the JCVI statement on COVID-19 vaccination of children and young people aged 12 to 17 years: 4 August 2021, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/jcvi-statement-august-2021-covid-19-vaccination-of-children-and-young-people-aged-12-to-17-years/jcvi-statement-on-covid-19-vaccination-of-children-and-young-people-aged-12-to-17-years-4-august-2021.
Those aged 16 and 17 do not need the consent of their parents to receive a COVID vaccination. This is because, in the UK a person who is 16 years and above is deemed able to consent for themselves, and if they are competent and able to consent for themselves then that consent holds. This is the case for all medical treatment. More information on consent and NHS treatment can be found here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/consent-to-treatment/children/
COVID-19 Vaccine for Children aged 12 to 15 years
While the vaccines have been deemed both safe and effective, a separate review was undertaken by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to weigh up the health benefits of vaccination for children against the potential harms. This review decided against recommending COVID vaccines for all 12 to 15-year-olds on health grounds alone, given the virus presents such a low risk to them.
In a statement on Friday 3 September, the JCVI said: “the margin of benefit is considered too small to support universal vaccination of healthy 12- to 15-year-olds at this time”. Instead, the committee recommended an expansion to an existing programme of vaccinations for older children with health conditions, including heart disease, type 1 diabetes and severe asthma, increasing the eligible cohort to about 200,000. The existing programme of vaccinations states that children aged 12 to 15 years with specific underlying health conditions and those living with individuals of any age who are immunosuppressed were advised to receive a vaccination.
Children and young people aged 12 years and over who are household contacts of persons (adults or children) who are immunosuppressed should be offered 2 doses of Pfizer vaccine on the understanding that the main benefits from vaccination are related to the potential for indirect protection of their household contact who is immunosuppressed. The offer of vaccination may help to alleviate stress and anxiety experienced by the children and young people living in these difficult circumstances. This advice is provided recognising that persons who are immunosuppressed are at higher risk of serious disease from COVID-19 and may not generate a full immune response to vaccination themselves
However, as stressed by the JCVI in its own statement, their remit does not include wider issues such as disruption to schools. Therefore, their statement isn’t saying no to universal vaccination for children aged 12 to 15. The JVCI have instead said there is a marginal benefit, but as they make clear, they’re assessing it from a very narrow view. Following the JCVI’s announcement, the Health Secretary, and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, wrote to the chief medical officers in their countries, asking them to “consider the matter from a broader perspective”. The UK's chief medical officers are currently reviewing the wider benefits of the move, such as reducing school absences, and they are expected to present their findings within days. While the Government does not want to prejudge the UK’s chief medical officers’ response, vaccinations for all 12- to 15-year-olds is very much still on the table. That said, it is important to note that the Vaccines Minister has said parental consent will be required if the Government decides that all 12 to 15-year-olds should be offered the jab.
To view the JCVI statement on COVID-19 vaccination of children aged 12 to 15 years: 3 September 2021 in full, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/jcvi-statement-september-2021-covid-19-vaccination-of-children-aged-12-to-15-years/jcvi-statement-on-covid-19-vaccination-of-children-aged-12-to-15-years-3-september-2021