Decisions about immunising children against COVID-19 have not been straightforward and so I thought it would be helpful to update you in light of this week’s publication of new advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on vaccination of all children aged 5 to 11 years old. This provides 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. The College published a statement in response.
In short, the JCVI advises that all children aged 5-11 who are not in a clinical at risk group should be offered two 10 mcg doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, at least 12 weeks apart. The offer is described as being “non urgent” and is a “one-off” offer as part of the pandemic response. JCVI have stated that they will review future plans for vaccination for all paediatric age groups as the pandemic evolves.
As a College, we shared our professional view with JCVI (download below) on the benefits and disbenefits, whether direct or indirect, on the offer of vaccination to all 5 to 11 year olds. We stated that the earlier considerations around the offer to 12 to 15 year olds offered helpful insight – in that vaccination could benefit healthy children, irrespective of any direct health benefit, in enabling them to have less interruption to school attendance, to allow them to mix more freely with their friends, to give more protection to friends and family members whose health may be at risk from the virus and to help reduce the anxiety some children feel about COVID-19.
But vaccination can only ever be one part of a concerted overall plan to ensure consistent and uninterrupted access to school. Any decision to vaccinate should be a matter of choice and it should never be mandatory.
The COVID-19 vaccination to those deemed ‘at risk’ was announced at the end of last year and deployment is currently underway for that cohort. I think it is very clear that it is a priority for 5 to 11 year olds who are deemed to be at risk of COVID-19 infection or who are living with family members who are immunosuppressed, to receive this vaccine. I would strongly encourage you to review the children currently in your care to see if they fall into any of the ‘at risk’ groups and encourage them and their parents to consider the offer carefully.
In terms of universal rollout, delivering a vaccination programme to all 5 to 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. We are pressing the four UK governments to develop information and materials that are parent-and-carer friendly, and suitable for children, to facilitate their decision making.
As a College, we are using every possible opportunity to remind policymakers that 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 MMR vaccine as well as other routine vaccinations are decreasing, but these are crucial and potentially life-saving. In the UK we are fortunate to have a highly successful childhood immunisation programme which is very effective.
The COVID-19 vaccination must not displace others and all governments must take action to ensure uptake of these routine vaccinations is increased.
I trust this information is helpful. We are committed to supporting you in this area and so please use the online resources available.
With my best wishes
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