Covid: Which children are being vaccinated and why?

By James Gallagher
Health and science correspondent

image sourceGetty Images

Millions of children are being offered a Covid vaccine, including all 16- 17 year olds and at risk 12-15 year olds.

NHS organisations in England have been told to prepare for a possible decision to offer the jab to all 12 to 15-year-olds.

Which children are being offered the vaccine?

All 16 and 17 year-olds are being offered a first dose. No second dose is planned as yet.

Vaccinations are also recommended for those aged 12-15 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

Children of the same age who live with people who have a suppressed immune system can also be vaccinated, to protect family members.

Which vaccine will they get?

Currently it is the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

image sourceGetty Images
image captionNurse prepares a Pfizer vaccine dose

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.

Will all UK children be offered the vaccine?

NHS organisations in England have been told to make preparations to jab all 12 to 15-year-olds. But a final decision is awaited.

Any change will depend on a recommendation from experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

It has previously said the benefits of being vaccinated are very small in healthy children. This is because so few children become seriously ill or die from Covid.

It also said the benefit to adults from vaccinating children (to limit the spread of Covid) is unclear as so many vulnerable people have been immunised already.

There is no vaccine currently approved for use in the under 12s in the UK.

image sourceGetty Images
image captionYoung person vaccinated in north London

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.

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