Only vulnerable children over 12 or who live with vulnerable adults will get Covid vaccines for now

Healthy children won’t routinely be offered a Covid vaccine because the risk of Covid does not outweigh the chance of side effects, health chiefs ruled today.

Only 370,000 children aged 12 to 15 with underlying conditions or who live with someone who does will be called up for a jab.

This includes youngsters with severely weakened immune systems and learning difficulties, as well as those who live with immunosuppressed adults.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said the risk of Covid to healthy children was so small it did not outweigh the risk of heart inflammation posed by jabs. 

Eligible children will be offered the Pfizer vaccine because there was enough safety data from trials and rollouts in the US and Israel. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid accepted the advice and asked the NHS to put it into action as soon as possible.

But he said the JCVI will continue to review evidence and may change its mind in the future.

Britons aged 17 who are within three months of their 18th birthday will also be urged to get a vaccine in the coming weeks. 

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the JCVI, said he expects uptake to be above 90 per cent in the newly eligible groups. 

It comes as all Covid restrictions were lifted in England today, with daily cases hitting 39,950 and 19 people dying form the virus. 

Children aged 12 to 15 with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities can now get the Covid jab. Additionally, youngsters who live with people who are immunosuppressed should get the vaccine, the JCVI said

The JCVI said there was a risk of heart inflammation in about one in 20,000 after a dose of Pfizer’s vaccine.

It ruled against recommending the vaccine to healthy children because the risk of dying from the virus for them is about one in a million.  

The wider benefits in controlling the pandemic by preventing transmission to adults were ‘highly uncertain’, the group concluded.

It added that the risks of long Covid to children were still not known – because the condition is so poorly understood and most studies into it rely on self-reported data. 

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi told MPs this afternoon: ‘The JCVI considered not just the health impacts, but the non-health impacts as we asked them to do so, like how education is disrupted by outbreaks in schools. 

‘I should reassure the house that the number of children and young people who have had severe outcomes from Covid is extremely low with a hospitalisation rate during the second wave between 100 and 400 for every million. 

‘When we look at the small numbers who were hospitalised, most of them had severe underlying health conditions.

‘The steps we are taking today mean we will be offering even more vulnerable people the protection that a vaccine brings. And we will all be safer as a result.’ 

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi told MPs this afternoon that the vaccine rollout will now be expanded to 370,000 children with underlying in England, as well as those living with people at-risk

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi told MPs this afternoon that the vaccine rollout will now be expanded to 370,000 children with underlying in England, as well as those living with people at-risk

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the recommendation means more vulnerable young people at greatest risk from this virus can now benefit from vaccines. 

‘I have accepted their expert recommendations and I have asked the NHS to prepare to vaccinate those eligible as soon as possible.    

‘Covid-19 vaccines have saved almost 37,000 lives and prevented around 11.7million infections in England alone. 

‘They are building a wall of defence and are the best way to protect people from serious illness. I encourage everybody who is eligible to get their jabs as soon as they can.’

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the JCVI, said: ‘The primary aim of the vaccination programme has always been to prevent hospitalisations and deaths. 

‘Based on the fact that previously well children, if they do get Covid-19, are likely to have a very mild form of the disease, the health benefits of vaccinating them are small.

‘The benefits of reducing transmission to the wider population from children are also highly uncertain, especially as vaccine uptake is very high in older people who are at highest risk from serious Covid-19 infection.

‘We will keep this advice under review as more safety and effectiveness information becomes available.’ 

What is the evidence on vaccinating children? 

Covid is very rarely severe or fatal in children.

Just one in 500,000 under-18s are at risk of dying from the virus, researchers at leading UK universities found this month. 

That means any vaccine given to youngsters has to be very safe because the risk-harm benefit from them catching the virus is so low.

The fact that older people have a higher chance of being hospitalised or dying from the virus outweighs the side effects the vaccine could have on them.

But as children are less affected from the virus, some side effects could be riskier to them than the virus itself.

Since the vaccine rollout has been expanded to children in countries including the US and Israel, there have been reports of an extremely rare reported cases of myocarditis and pericarditis.

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle, while pericarditis is when the protective layer around the heart gets inflamed.

There are no specific causes of the conditions but they are usually triggered by a virus.

The UK is expected to wait for more data from clinical trials and other countries immunising children before making a decision to offer all youngster the jab.

The US, Israel and France are already giving the vaccine to over-12s. 

In addition to safety concerns, children’s bodies and immune systems behave differently, meaning they might have different treatment needs.

Youngsters may need different doses or needle sizes depending on their height, weight and age – which is why most children are only vaccinated after safety has been well-documented in the adult population. 

Mr Zahawi said this morning the Government had niggling concerns about the ‘very rare’ cases of heart inflammation in some young people given the Pfizer and Moderna jabs.  

There has been extremely rare reports myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart — and pericarditis — when the protective layer around the heart becomes inflamed — in young people who got the vaccine.

Data from the US — where cases of myocarditis have been spotted — suggests the complication is most common in boys and young men.  

Young people aged 16 and 17 who have underlying health conditions have already been offered the jab. 

Covid is rarely severe or fatal in children, with just 30 dying from Covid in the UK in the first year of the pandemic.  

The committee is waiting for evidence from children receiving both doses in the US and in trials before recommending all healthy children be injected.

But they will ‘leave the door open’ for a wider rollout among children after they review safety data from trials later this year, according to the Daily Telegraph. 

Pfizer is currently trialling its jab on children aged between two and 11, while AstraZeneca is testing its jab on six to 17-year-olds. 

Results from the trials are expected to be published around November. 

It is still unclear if the AstraZeneca vaccine will be given to children in the UK — it is already restricted in adults under 40 due to its very rare links to deadly blood clots.  

Pressed on why the Government was not looking to jab all children, Mr Zahawi told Sky News this morning: ‘The JCVI are continuing to review that. 

‘There is new emerging data of children vaccinated in America and elsewhere with a first dose, not yet enough data with a second dose, so they want to look at all the data.

‘There is a very rare signal around something called myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart. 

‘On balance, I think the JCVI are coming down on the side of continuing to review all children, healthy children, but wanting to protect the vulnerable children first.’ 

British health chiefs already warn Pfizer and Moderna’s coronavirus vaccines may cause heart damage.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency insists the complication – inflammation of the heart muscle which can damage the organ over time – is still ‘extremely rare’ and ‘typically mild’.   

Data from the US — where cases of myocarditis have been spotted — suggests the complication is most common in boys and young men.

Professor Helen Bedford, a children’s health expert at University College London, said: ‘To recommend a vaccine for any population group there needs to be careful weighing up of the risks of the disease and benefits and risks of vaccinating. 

‘Healthy young people and children, become seriously ill with Covid extremely rarely, so there would be few direct benefits for them of vaccination but it would contribute to increasing population immunity. 

‘There may be a stronger case for vaccinating those with existing serious health conditions. 

‘Before recommending vaccination for all children and young people we therefore need to be very clear about of the safety of the vaccines in this group. 

‘Although there is now good trial data and experience of vaccinating very large numbers of adults and the vaccines have been shown to be safe, we cannot automatically assume this applies to children. 

‘More information is needed from trials and experience of using these vaccines in young people and children before the programme is rolled out further.’

It comes as Professor Neil Ferguson, dubbed ‘Professor Lockdown’ after his grim modelling of the first wave initiated the first shutdown last March, warned yesterday that herd immunity will be impossible without vaccinating children.

Herd immunity is when so much of a population is immune to a virus, either through vaccination or previous infection, that the disease starts to decline. 

Professor Ferguson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday: ‘We’re already seeing very high numbers of cases in teenagers, and we won’t be able to reach herd immunity without significant immunity in basically people under 18.’ 

He also warned daily figures could reach 200,000 infections and 2,000 hospitalisations.

Professor Ferguson said: ‘We’ll know it’s worked when case numbers plateau and start going down, we know then hospitalisations and deaths will take some more weeks.

‘The best projections suggest that could happen any time from, really, mid-August to mid-September. So, we will have to be patient.

‘It’ll also take us three weeks before we know the effect of Monday, of relaxing restrictions, and what that will do to case numbers. So, it’s going to be quite a period of time.’