The JCVI has recommended the rollout of low-dose COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable 5–11 year olds, and that boosters be given to 16–17 year olds and at-risk younger teenagers

Child receiving vaccination

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended the immediate extension of the COVID-19 vaccination programme to clinically vulnerable children aged 5–11 years. This covers those in a clinical risk group, and those who live in a household with someone of any age who is immunosuppressed. A decision on rollout of the vaccine to all children aged 5–11 years has not yet been made, although a further announcement is expected in January 2022.

The JCVI also announced the expansion of the booster programme to:

  • children and young people aged 16–17 years
  • children and young people aged 12–15 years who are in a clinical risk group or are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed
  • children and young people aged 12–15 years who are severely immunosuppressed and who have had a third primary dose. This is in line with current recommendations for immunocompromised adults.

The statement from the JCVI says that at-risk 5–11 year olds are to be offered two 10µg doses of the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, with a gap of 8 weeks between each, and a minimum interval of 4 weeks between a vaccine dose and recent COVID-19 infection.

When assessing the evidence on vaccinating primary school children, the JCVI said: ‘The main focus of its considerations should be the potential benefits and harms of vaccination to children and young people themselves. The benefits and risks from COVID-19 vaccination in children and young people are finely balanced, largely because the risks associated with SARS-CoV-2 [ severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2] infection are very low. Of all age groups, children aged 511 years are those at lowest risks of serious COVID-19.’

The committee will now consider additional data in relation to vaccinating the wider cohort of 5–11 year olds, including:

  • updated estimates of the proportion of children aged 5–11 years who have already been infected
  • the level of protection afforded against COVID-19 disease due to the Omicron variant from previous SARS-CoV-2 infection
  • post-marketing adverse event reporting data from the international use of the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in those aged 5–11 years
  • considerations from the Department of Health and Social Care and other government departments on the potential educational impacts of COVID-19 vaccination in those aged 5–11 years.

Booster doses for teenagers will consist of 30 µg of the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine no sooner than 3 months after completion of their primary course. The JCVI suggests prioritisation by age when there are constraints in vaccine supply, pointing out: ‘Broadly, persons aged 12–15 years who are in a clinical risk group are at higher risk from serious COVID-19 than persons aged 16–17 years who are not in a clinical risk group. Where appropriate, deployment teams may wish to take these factors into account for operational purposes.’

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