Babies with underlying conditions will be offered a Covid vaccine, UK health chiefs confirmed today.
Around 60,000 infants aged six months to four years will be eligible for two Pfizer jabs.
They include children with poorly controlled asthma and issues affecting their heart, kidneys, liver or digestive system.
While Covid poses a small threat to the overwhelming majority of children, some are at risk of a more serious illness. Jabs are the ‘best way to increase their protection’, according to the Government’s vaccine taskforce.
NHS sites will begin offering jabs in mid-June. Parents should wait to be contacted before coming forward, officials said.
NHS England has confirmed it will begin offering jabs to those eligible in England from mid-June
Latest data from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that 51 under-fours have died within four weeks of a positive Covid test since the pandemic began
Latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) suggests that 51 under-fours have died of Covid since the pandemic began.
Yet this toll includes anyone who has tested positive for the virus within four weeks of dying, so could be a slight overestimate.
In a report published today, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the Government on the jab rollout, said eligible youngsters should be offered two 3-microgram doses of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine, at least eight weeks apart.
If a child has recently been infected with the virus, they should not be jabbed until at least four weeks later, it said.
Further advise on third doses of the low-dose formulation for those in the cohort who are immunosuppressed will be issue ‘in due course’, the JCVI said.
Healthy children in the age group are not currently eligible, it added.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI’s COVID-19 Committee, said: ‘For the vast majority of infants and children, Covid causes only mild symptoms, or sometimes no symptoms.
‘However, for a small group of children with pre-existing health conditions it can lead to more serious illness, and for them, vaccination is the best way to increase their protection.’
The JCVI’s advice follows a review of Covid vaccine trials among children in the US, including safety data and monitoring the virus amongst youngsters in the UK.
Data suggests that at-risk children aged six months to four years are seven times more likely to be admitted to intensive care with severe Covid, it said.
But more than 90 per cent of the cohort have already been infected and admission rates ‘have remained low’, the report states.
More than 1million American children aged six months to four years have received at least one dose of Pfizer since June 2022.
Irritability, crying, sleepiness and fever are the most common side effects, while one to two per cent of children suffered a severe fever.
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) gave a greenlight to the jab for the age group in December, ruling that it was safe and effective.
But the JCVI then provides advice on how it should be dished out.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UKHSA, said: ‘Covid is still in circulation, with thousands of new cases reported every week.
‘The extra protection offered by the vaccine could be important for young children in clinical risk groups, who are at greater risk of severe illness.
‘The virus is not going away so I would encourage all parents to bring their child forward if they are eligible.
‘Parents should wait to be contacted by their local health professionals.’
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘Children are at very low risk of harm from Covid.
‘However, there are a very small number of children with health conditions which make them particularly vulnerable, and for those children we want to give parents the choice as to whether they wish to vaccinate their at-risk child or not.
‘I have accepted advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on vaccinating children aged from six months to four years who are in a clinical risk group.
‘It is a parental decision, and this advice is simply to enable parents of children with medical conditions to choose if they wish to have the protection.’
What children are now eligible for the Covid jab?
Youngsters aged six months to four years in the UK will be eligible for two doses of the Pfizer vaccine if they are in a clinical risk group that makes them vulnerable to the virus.
This latest advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), states that this cohort may develop more serious illness following a Covid infection, so jabs are the ‘best way to increase their protection’.
Those eligible include children with a:
Chronic respiratory disease: including those with poorly controlled asthma that requires continuous or repeated use of systemic steroids or with previous exacerbations requiring hospital admission, cystic fibrosis, ciliary dyskinesias and bronchopulmonary dysplasia
Chronic heart conditions: haemodynamically significant congenital and acquired heart disease, or less severe heart disease with other co-morbidity
Chronic conditions of the kidney, liver or digestive system: including those associated with congenital malformations of the organs, metabolic disorders and neoplasms, and conditions such as severe gastrooesophageal reflux that may predispose to respiratory infection
Chronic neurological disease: those with a) neuro-disability and/or neuromuscular disease that may occur as a result of conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy and muscular dystrophy b) hereditary and degenerative disease of the nervous system or muscles, other conditions associated with hypoventilation c) severe or profound and multiple learning disabilities, Down’s syndrome, including all those on the learning disability register d) neoplasm of the brain
Endocrine disorders: including diabetes mellitus, Addison’s and hypopituitary syndrome
Immunosuppression: due to disease or treatment, including a) those undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy, solid organ transplant recipients, bone marrow or stem cell transplant recipients b) genetic disorders affecting the immune system (e.g. deficiencies of IRAK-4 or NEMO, complement disorder, SCID) c) those with haematological malignancy, including leukaemia and lymphoma d) those receiving immunosuppressive or immunomodulating biological therapy e) those treated with or likely to be treated with high or moderate dose corticosteroids f) those receiving any dose of non-biological oral immune modulating drugs e.g. methotrexate, azathioprine, 6-mercaptopurine or mycophenolate g) those with auto-immune diseases who may require long term immunosuppressive treatments h) Children who are about to receive planned immunosuppressive therapy should be considered for vaccination prior to commencing therapy
Asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen: Including hereditary spherocytosis, homozygous sickle cell disease and thalassemia major
Serious genetic abnormalities that affect a number of systems: Including mitochondrial disease and chromosomal abnormalities