Will younger children receive a Covid vaccine?

US regulators have advised Pfizer jab rollout for five to 11-year-olds

Pupils wear masks in school
(Image credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Vaccination regulators in the United States have been advised to authorise the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 jab for children aged five to 11.

The decision was made by independent advisors for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), paving the way for the vaccine to become available to around 28 million American children.

Data indicates that the Pfizer vaccine is 90.7% effective at preventing symptomatic illness among the age group and that its benefits “clearly outweigh” the risks, The Guardian reported.

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There is no vaccine currently approved for under-12s in the UK. However, Downing Street is likely to keep an eye on whether the US follows the regulators’ recommendation and makes the Pfizer jab available to children as young as five.

“This is a landmark decision that could influence practise in other countries, not just the US,” said Michelle Roberts, health editor at the BBC. “The world will be watching how the rollout goes with the Pfizer jab and what impact it has on the pandemic.”

Vaccinating teens

The decision on when to vaccinate children has been taken cautiously by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and UK government. The JCVI initially advised delaying vaccination for most young people before rolling the jab out to 16 to 18-year-olds back in August.

The decision to make the jab available for children as young as 16 was influenced by data from the US, which found that serious side effects from the vaccine were extremely rare in 12 to 17-year-olds.

The data showed that 9.8 cases of myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle – were reported per million first doses administered in males. The number rose to 67 per million after second doses, but “most people recovered quickly”.

On 2 September, the NHS reported that 50% of all teens aged 16 and 17 had received their first dose just four weeks after the green light was given for their age group.

The JCVI’s Covid-19 chair Professor Wei Shen Lim said that anyone aged 16 or over would not need their parents’ permission to get the vaccine as this is the age at which people are entitled to consent to their own medical treatments.

The plan for 12 to 15-year-olds

On 13 September, the UK’s chief medical officers recommended that one dose of the Pfizer vaccine should be made available to children aged 12 to 15.

The rollout, which is generally taking place in schools, began on 20 September, with almost three million children eligible for the jab.

Over-12s with underlying health conditions, or those who live with someone with an underlying health condition, are eligible for a second dose.

It is hoped that the extended vaccine rollout will help curb the disruption to children’s education. Modelling suggested that recommending jabs to over-12s could “save 110,000 days of missed face-to-face schooling – or one day for every 20 pupils”, reported the BBC.

What are other countries doing?

In May, Canada became the first country in the world to authorise a coronavirus vaccine for use for under-16s. The country’s health ministry approved the use of the Pfizer jab for children between 12 and 15 after Phase 3 clinical trials found that the vaccine was safe and effective in that age group.

France, Italy, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands have all followed suit in rolling out the coronavirus vaccination to under-16s.

After initially resisting making the vaccine available to those under 16, Germany began offering jabs to all children aged 12 and over in August. Sweden also started rolling out the vaccine to all children over 12 after initially limiting it to those with an underlying health condition.

In June, China became the first country to approve a jab, the Sinovac vaccine, for children as young as three.

Israel’s health ministry said on Sunday that the country could also greenlight coronavirus vaccines for children aged five to 11 from mid-November, the Times of Israel reported. Currently, children as young as five who may be more vulnerable to the virus due to conditions such as extreme obesity, chronic lung illness or sickle cell anaemia are eligible for a vaccine.

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