RCPCH statement in response to JCVI advice on offering COVID-19 vaccination to all 5 – 11-year-olds

On Wednesday 16 February the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI) advice on offering COVID-19 vaccinations to all children aged 5 to 11 years was published.

The advice should be read in full on the Department of Health and Social Care’s website. It outlines the overarching advice on the vaccination, advice to deployment teams, the approach to informed consent, and key considerations across health benefit, educational impact and wider impact of vaccination delivery. 

In terms of what it states on the vaccine, the JCVI advises “a non-urgent offer of two 10 mcg doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 5 - 11 who are not in a clinical risk group. The 2 doses should be offered with an interval of at least 12 weeks between doses”. This advice “on the offer of vaccination to 5 to 11-year olds who are not in a clinical risk group is considered by JCVI as a one-off pandemic response programme”.

They have further stated that “as the COVID-19 pandemic moves forward they will review whether, in the longer term, an offer of vaccination to this, and other paediatric age groups, continues to be advised”. 

The RCPCH has responded:

We acknowledge the careful scrutiny the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI) has given to the issue of assessing the health benefits and risks of healthy 5 to 11 year olds being offered the COVID-19 vaccine. It is important that this decision has been reached following expert consideration over time by the JCVI of all available evidence and information. JCVI has said going ahead with the vaccine will increase this age group’s protection against severe illness in advance of a potential future wave of COVID-19. We recognise that the JCVI has stated this is a one off pandemic response programme of vaccinations, and it will review its advice over the long term. 

It is a priority that 5-11 year olds who are deemed to be at risk of COVID infection or who are living with family members who are immunosuppressed, receive this vaccine.  The COVID vaccine has been certified as safe by the Medicines Healthcare Regulation Agency (the MHRA), and we would encourage all those who are eligible to have the vaccine to consider doing so.  

Delivering a vaccination programme to 5-11 year olds will require careful planning in order to ensure a favourable experience for children.  Finding child-friendly vaccination sites, staffed with appropriately trained professionals, will be important and should facilitate equal access to all children which is key to avoiding disadvantaging some families.  Governments should develop information and materials that are parent-and-carer friendly, and suitable for children, to facilitate their decision making. 

Measles is much more infectious than COVID-19 and potentially a serious illness for children, especially the very young. We know uptake rates of the vaccine for Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) as well as other routine vaccinations are decreasing, but these are potentially life saving. In the UK we are fortunate to have a very successful childhood immunisation programme which is highly effective. The COVID-19 vaccination must not displace others and Government must take action to ensure uptake of these routine vaccinations is increased. 

Governments across the UK will now be considering how to best deploy the vaccines and delivery operations must be tailored to meet the needs of this age group, while maintaining the routine vaccination schedule.