Covid: Which kids are vaccinated and why?

By James Gallagher
Health and Science Correspondent

Image source, Getty Images

All children between the ages of 12 and 15 should be offered a dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the UK chief medical officers said.

But when the vaccinations are done, they are not mandatory.

Why can children between the ages of 12 and 15 have an injection?

The Chief Medical Officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland recommended a single dose of Pfizer for all children ages 12-15. A final decision will be made by the health ministers of the four UK countries.

Prof. Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said it was a “difficult decision” but one that would reduce disruption to children’s education.

He said absence from school “has been extremely difficult for children”, especially in deprived areas. Longer breaks could lead to mental health problems and have long-term effects on life chances, he added.

A second dose should not be considered before the spring semester, said the chief physicians.

They made their recommendation after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization – the scientific body that advises the government on vaccines – said it does not recommend vaccinating healthy children of this age for health reasons alone.

Is vaccination compulsory?

The vaccine is not mandatory.

Whitty said an “offer” to be vaccinated will be made to all children ages 12-15.

But he said young people and their parents need support and that their choice should not be stigmatized.

Do parents need to give permission?

The vaccine will likely be given in schools and parents will be asked for their consent.

However, if the child and parent have different views, the child can agree if they are deemed competent.

The NHS says that children under the age of 16 can agree “if it is assumed that they have enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully understand what is involved in their treatment”. This is referred to as “Gillick Competent”.

Individuals aged 16 and 17 do not need parental permission to receive the vaccine unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Which vaccine is used and will younger children be vaccinated?

Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is currently given to those under 18, although the Moderna vaccine has also been approved for use in children in the UK.

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

Which children are already being offered the vaccine?

All 16 and 17 year olds will be offered a first dose with the intention of having a second at a later date.

People aged 12 to 15 are entitled to two doses if they are at greater risk because of:

  • Severe neurological disability (including cerebral palsy, autism, or epilepsy)
  • Down syndrom
  • A severely weakened immune system, including some children with cancer
  • Profound and multiple learning difficulties

Another 200,000 children in this age group with chronic heart, lung and liver diseases should also receive two doses, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) now announced.

Children of the same age who live with people whose immune systems are weakened can also be vaccinated to protect family members.

Is the Covid vaccine safe for children?

No drug is completely safe and all are a balance of risk and benefit.

But the Pfizer jab would not have been approved for use in the UK had it not been considered safe.

The vaccine has been linked to incredibly rare cases of inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) and heart sac (pericarditis). This was more common in younger men and after a second dose.

But the European Medicines Agency – which approves vaccines for the European Union – says there are one to two cases per million people who have received the vaccine. Almost all of them made a full recovery.

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 people over 12 in May – after a study in 12 to 15 year olds found a similar immune response to 16 to 25 year olds. Children were also found to experience the same common side effects as headaches.

Both Pfizer and Moderna are conducting studies with their vaccines in children as young as six months.

Image source, Getty ImagesImage descriptionYoung person vaccinated in North London

How many children died from Covid?

Almost all children and young people are at great risk from Covid-19.

Data for England suggests that around 25 children died from Covid in the first 12 months of the pandemic.

The majority of them also had serious health problems, including complex neurological disabilities.

Only six had no recorded health status.

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