COVID-19 vaccination for children and young people

Over this summer the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and the Chief Medical Officers have been advising whether COVID vaccinations should be offered to children and young people.

Updated: 14 September 2021

Who will be offered COVID-19 vaccinations?

While the earlier phases of the vaccination programme prioritised some specific groups of children and young people who were clinically vulnerable i.e. those who are 16 years and over in an at-risk group (as defined by Table 3 of the Green Book), since July, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) have been advising on how the COVID vaccination programme may be applied more broadly to children and young people. We’ve summarised their advice here.

The following groups will be offered two doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine:

  • 12-15 year olds who are increased risk of serious COVID-19 disease and hospitalisation in the following groups: 
    • those with severe neuro-disabilities
    • those with immunosuppression*
    • those with Down Syndrome
    • those with profound and multiple learning disabilities, severe learning disabilities, or on GP the learning disability register 
    • haematological malignancy
    • sickle cell disease
    • type 1 diabetes
    • congenital heart disease
    • other health conditions as described by JCVI.  The Green Book has been updated and provides full details on the eligible clinical groups.
  • 12-17 year olds who are household contacts of people of any age who are immunosuppressed
  • Those turning 18 in the next three months

Those 12-17 year olds not covered by any of the categories above, and not vaccinated in earlier phases of the programme, will be offered a single dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. 

JCVI will provide further advice regarding details of second doses for this group once more data has been analysed. This is expected in the autumn for 16 & 17 year olds and in the spring for 12-15 year olds.

*What has JCVI advised for those who are severely immunosuppressed? 

JCVI has advised that people aged 12 years and over who were severely immunosuppressed at the time of their first or second dose should be offered a third vaccine dose as part of their primary COVID-19 vaccination schedule.

Studies are ongoing to see how effective a third dose is for immunosuppressed people, but it is very unlikely to cause any harm. Therefore, on balance, the JCVI have decided that a third dose can be safely offered as it may increase their protection.

The specialist paediatrician involved should advise whether the child or young person meets the eligibility criteria and on the timing of the third dose.

This is separate from any potential booster programme which is still being decided by the JCVI.

When will those who are now eligible be able to get their first vaccination?

The four health services across the UK are now developing and rolling out their plans. Different approaches will be taken across the country.

The Governments and NHS vaccine programmes should provide clear and consistent information for children and young people, families and clinicians about these next steps.

In England further information has been published on nhs.uk

Details of the Northern Ireland vaccination programme is available on the nidirect government services website.  

In Scotland, further information has been provided by NHS Inform, including these details regarding vaccinations for those aged 12-15 years.

Further details of the Welsh Government’s vaccination programme is available on the GOV.WALES website.

What information will be provided to children, young people and their families about this?

The JCVI and CMOs have noted that the risks and benefits around COVID vaccination for healthy 12-15 year olds are more finely balanced than for older age groups. Information provided should cover all the details needed to ensure a young person can give informed consent.

For those who are household contacts of a person who is immunosuppressed - vaccination should be offered on the understanding that the main benefits are related to the potential for indirect protection of that household contact.

Information about the vaccine, its safety and side effects has been published by Public Health England.

What information will be available to support healthcare professionals?

The Green Book has been updated with the clinical criteria included in this phase of the vaccination programme, the evidence base and potential safety and side effects. This information should support clinicians discuss risks and benefits of vaccination with children, young people and their families.

Product information about individual vaccines is available from the MHRA. The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are authorised for use in 12-17 year olds. Other vaccines have yet to be authorised for under 18s in the UK.

Does the JCVI advice allow for any unlicensed or off-label use in those under 12 years? 

JCVI has reiterated that there is no rationale for off label or unlicensed use of the vaccine in under 12s and that only authorised vaccines should be offered to those under 18 years. 

What about other routine childhood vaccinations?

JCVI has stressed the importance of ensuring that other routine immunisations for children and young people are maintained given the benefits they offer. National immunisation programmes are proven to be highly effective at preventing disease, reducing serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases such as meningitis and measles.  

Latest updates to this page

  • Update in this version (14 September) to reflect CMOs advice on vaccinations for healthy 12-15 year olds 
  • Update in version (3 September) to reflect JCVI advice on expanded list of 12-15 year olds with specific health conditions that are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination
  • Update in version (2 September 2021) to reflect JCVI advice on a third primary dose vaccination for those who are severely immunosuppressed.
  • Update in version (18 August 2021) to reflect information provided on NHS England’s vaccination programme and MHRA’s emergency authorisation of Moderna’s vaccine for 12-17 year olds.
  • Update in version (4 August 2021) to reflect JCVI advice on vaccinations for 16 and 17 year olds.