Children aged 12 to 15 years with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities will be offered a Covid-19 vaccine.

From today, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is advising that children at increased risk of serious Covid-19 disease are offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Under existing advice, young people aged 16 to 17 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious Covid-19 should have already been offered vaccination.

The JCVI is not currently advising routine vaccination of children outside of these groups, based on the current evidence. As evidence shows that Covid-19 rarely causes severe disease in children without underlying health conditions, at this time the JCVI’s view is that the minimal health benefits of offering universal Covid-19 vaccination to children do not outweigh the potential risks.

Real-world data on Covid-19 vaccines in children is limited

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine that has been authorised for children in the UK, for those aged 12 or older. This followed a US clinical trial in around 1,000 children aged 12 to 15 that found side effects in this group were generally short lived and mild to moderate.

Real-world data on the safety of Covid-19 vaccines in children is currently limited, but there have been extremely rare reports of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane around the heart) following the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in millions of younger adults.

Until more safety data is available and has been evaluated, a precautionary approach is preferred.

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."