After several delays, health regulators in England have approved a low-dose Covid vaccine for children aged between five and 11 in April.
According to scientists on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the move would help protect the “very small” number of children who become seriously ill with Covid, BBC reported.
About six million children in the UK in the age group between five and 11 will be offered the jab.
However, the rollout will be “non-urgent”, Health Secretary Sajid Javid was quoted as saying with an emphasis on parental choice.
“The NHS will prepare to extend this non-urgent offer to all children during April so parents can, if they want, take up the offer to increase protection against potential future waves of Covid-19 as we learn to live with this virus,” Javid said.
While the vaccine had received regulatory approval only in December, it will be rolled out in April.
The roll out was delayed due to a disagreement with the UK government, which says it is “reviewing the JCVI’s advice as part of wider decision-making”.
Javid emphasised that children are at low risk from Covid and that the “priority remains for the NHS to offer vaccines and boosters to adults and vulnerable young people and to catch-up with other childhood immunisation programmes”.
Two 10 microgram doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with at least 12 weeks between each dose, would be administered to those whose parents decide to take up the offer, the report said.
Due to low risk of infection severity in children, the JCVI scientists have been weighing up the evidence for immunising five to 11-year-olds.
They concluded vaccination should go ahead to prevent a “very small number of children from serious illness and hospitalisation” in a future wave of Covid, the report said.
“We’re offering this to five to 11-year-olds now in order to future-proof their defences against a future wave of infection,” Prof Wei Shen Lim, from the JCVI, was quoted as saying.
Lim suggested that parents consider getting their children vaccinated during school holidays to minimise disruption to their education from any flu-like side effects of the jab.
The full guidelines also claim that fewer than two children would develop inflamed heart muscle (myocarditis) out of every million vaccinated.
However, it estimates vaccinating one million children would prevent: 98 hospitalisations if the next wave was more severe like previous variants; and 17 hospitalisations if the next wave was relatively mild, like Omicron, the report said.
The Pfizer vaccine for kids — which contains just a third of the adult dose — has already been used widely in other countries. The US alone has given it to eight million children in this age group.