England is opening up today its COVID-19 vaccination program to healthy children aged five to 11, bringing the country into line with the rest of Europe which has been offering the jab to young children for some months.
Families can book online or visit a walk-in center with their young children to receive their first shot of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. The mRNA jab contains one third of the dose offered to people over 12, and the second jab will be offered 12 weeks later.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the offer will increase protection “as we learn to live with this virus.”
He added that healthy children are at low risk of serious illness from COVID-19, and that the NHS priority remains offering vaccines and boosters to adults and vulnerable young people as well as catching up with other childhood immunization programs.
The vaccine has already been offered to vulnerable children in this group.
Some parents and scientists have been campaigning for wider access to the vaccine for young children for some time. The jab was approved for use in this age group in late December.
While they’re unlikely to get very sick with the infection, around 2 percent of children are estimated to develop long COVID, Nathalie MacDermott, a lecturer at King’s College London, noted this week.
She said the risk of heart inflammation side effect in children who get the vaccine is very rare, at about one in 20,000, whereas their risk of long COVID is about one in 50. “Why was that not considered when we were considering vaccinating our children?” she asked at Royal Society conference on the science of COVID on Thursday.
An analysis by the U.K. Health Security Agency found that vaccinated people were less likely to experience long COVID.
Meanwhile, infections continue to surge following the Delta and Omicron waves over the winter. Nevertheless, the country on Friday ended free access to lateral flow tests, except for front-line health and social care staff, and restricted PCR tests to those in hospitals, hospices and vulnerable groups.
Experts, including Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance, have warned those moves will lead to increased transmission as people relax social behavior.
Across Europe, the vaccination story is quite different. Countries have been offering children as young as five the BioNTech/Pfizer jab for several months, after the European Medicines Agency recommended the lower dose for this group in November.
In addition, many EU countries, including Bulgaria, have been offering children six and over Moderna’s jab, which was authorized in Europe in late February. Moderna’s vaccine is not yet authorized in this younger cohort in the U.K.