What you need to know about Covid jabs for 5-11-year-olds as all UK nations approve them

It's hoped the vaccine will stop future disruption in children's lives, as Health Editor Emily Morgan reports

Children aged five to 11 in England and Northern Ireland are to be offered the Covid-19 vaccine in a bid to protect them from future waves of coronavirus.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid and NI's Health Minister Robin Swann made the announcements on Wednesday afternoon, following in the footsteps of Scotland and Wales who both announced earlier this week they would be jabbing youngsters in this age category.

The decisions from across the UK came after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said children should be offered a low-dose Covid jab on a "non-urgent" basis.

Across the UK, children aged between five and 11 who are in the "at risk" groups are already being offered the jab, as are all those over the age of 12.

The dose approved for children is lower than that used for adults and older children.

How many children will be offered the vaccine?

There are an estimated 5.8 million five to 11-year-olds in the UK.

Of course some of these will have already been offered a chance to have a vaccine if they are in vulnerable groups.

There are almost six million children aged between five and 11 in the UK. Credit: PA

Are there any side-effects for children?

When the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the jab for younger children it said that its review of side effects found that the “overwhelming majority” were mild, including a sore arm and flu-like illness.

It examined lots of data, including information from the US where millions of children aged five to 11 have been vaccinated. The jab has also been on offer to this age group in a number of countries around the world.

Data from countries which are already vaccinating young children suggests that the jab may reduce the risk of rare inflammatory reaction caused by Covid in youngsters.

The evidence on vaccines preventing long-Covid in children is patchy.

When will children be vaccinated?

Sajid Javid said the rollout of jabs for five to 11-year-olds will begin in April.

No definite timeframe has yet been given in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Where will children be given the jabs?

It has not yet been announced where children will be vaccinated.

Children aged 12 and over and vulnerable five to 11-year-olds have been able to use NHS facilities and some schools have been used as vaccination sites.

Jabs could be offered in schools, similarly to the rollout of the Covid vaccine for over-12s. Credit: PA

Will children be given the same dose as adults?

Children aged five to 11 will be offered a much lower dose of the vaccine – lower than that offered to adults or children aged 12 and over.

They will be offered a 10 micrograms dose compared with 30 micrograms.

Research showed that the immune response from the paediatric dose in those aged five to 11 is just as good as a full dose for 16 to 25-year-olds.

The MHRA said the vaccine is given as two injections in the upper arm and the JCVI said there will be an interval of at least 12 weeks between doses.

What have England and Northern Ireland's health secretaries said?

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Sajid Javid said he had "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 NHS is already offering vaccines to at-risk children and those who live with immunosuppressed people in this age group.

“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.”

Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann said: "As has always been the case, our vaccination programme will continue to be guided by the expert advice.

"This announcement by the JCVI underlines the important role that the Covid-19 vaccines plays in protecting people of all ages and has only been taken after rigorous assessment of both safety and effectiveness.

"I have asked the PHA (Public Health Agency) to work with the (health) trusts to put this latest advice into operation and further details will be released shortly."

What has the JCVI said?

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 five to 11-year-olds is to increase their protection against severe illness in advance of a potential future wave of Covid-19."

How are vaccines approved? I'm sure five to 11-year-olds were mentioned in December

The usual protocol for vaccine approval starts with the UK medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which confirms whether or not a vaccine is safe and effective after looking at all of the data submitted by pharmaceutical companies.

Vaccination experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) then assess this data and other factors – in this case school absences and rates of infection – before they advise ministers as to whether they should offer a vaccine.

Ministers then announce their decision. Health is a devolved matter, hence why England, Scotland and Wales have made their announcements separately.

The MHRA announced in December that a special “paediatric formulation” of the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine was safe for use among children aged five to 11.

The JCVI then said that the vaccine could be offered to “at risk” children in this age group, but reserved its decision on wider use among this cohort.

It is thought the decisions in Scotland and Wales could have brought forward that in England. Credit: PA

Why have the different nations of the UK made the same announcement on different days?

The different announcements across the UK is likely due to the JCVI guidance being given to ministers, but not publicly announced.

A bit of political wrangling in Westminster could be to blame and it may be that Whitehall officials wanted to announce the decision on offering jabs for five to 11-year-olds when then set out their Living With Covid plans next week.

However, it seems that Wales and Scotland have jumped the gun on the announcement, forcing the hand of Westminster officials who then published the JCVI decision on Wednesday.

Why are young children being vaccinated? I thought they didn't tend to get seriously ill with Covid

The JCVI said that, while the virus does not pose a threat to most children, a very small number who are infected will develop serious disease.

The move will also provide some short-term protection against mild infection across the age group, it said.

The aim is to offer the vaccines to help "future proof" children against potential new variants, some of which could be more severe, and upsurges in Covid.

This was a finely balanced decision, as Health Editor Emily Morgan explains what tipped authorities to give approval

However, experts said it could not be predicted when a new wave of Covid may hit the UK.

If parents do not wish to give their children a vaccine now, an offer of a jab is likely to remain on the table as children get older.

It is thought that more than 85% of children aged five to 11 have already had coronavirus.

Experts were unable to determine whether vaccination would reduce absences from school, because some children are off after having the jab while others are off from infection.

Will children under the age of five be offered doses?

It is a possibility but those decisions are a long way off.

The UK has taken time to weigh up the risks and benefits of vaccinations for children and often taken much longer than some other western countries to confirm it is happy for its youngest citizens to get a Covid jab.

Last week the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it needed more data before considering whether children aged six months to four years should be offered the Pfizer vaccine.

Across the world, children as young as two are being offered the vaccine. Credit: AP

Which other countries are vaccinating five to 11-year-olds?

  • The US and Canada have been offering the Pfizer vaccine to 5-11 year olds since November.

  • The European Medicines Agency also recommended its rollout in November and Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Hungary, France, Belgium and the Czech Republic are amongst the EU countries to do so.

  • Bahrain has approved the Sinopharm vaccine for children aged three to 11.

  • Israel, Oman and Saudi Arabia have approved Pfizer's jab for children as young as five. Bahrain and the UAE have also approved it for use in emergency situations.

  • China has approved two Sinopharm and one Sinovac vaccines for children as young as three and its Zhejiang province said it had vaccinated all three to 11-year-old by the end of 2021.

  • Hong Kong lowered the age limit for Sinovac's vaccine to three in late November.

  • Earlier this year Japan and Singapore began vaccinating children as young as five.

  • Indonesia has authorised Sinovac's jab for children over-six.

  • Australia began giving children aged five to 11 doses of the Pfizer vaccine last month.

  • Cuba and Venezula are giving the Soberana 2 vaccine to children as young as two.

  • Argentina is vaccinating children as young as three with Sinopharm's shot, while Chile and El Salvador began vaccinating children aged six-11 in September.

  • Ecuador is inoculating children as young as six with Sinovac's shot.

  • In Costa Rica, coronavirus jabs are mandatory for children aged over-five.

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