The UK Advises Which Young People Should Receive COVID-19 Vaccination
The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) issued advice today that young people (12 to 15) at increased risk for serious COVID-19 disease should be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty) vaccine.
This new JCVI advice includes those with severe neuro disabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression, and multiple or severe learning disabilities.
The JCVI also recommends that young people aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person should be offered an mRNA vaccine. This recommendation is to indirectly protect their immunosuppressed household contacts, who are at higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19 and may not generate a complete immune response to vaccination.
Under existing JCVI 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.
However, the JCVI is not currently advising routine vaccination of children outside 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.
Almost all children and young people are at very low risk from COVID-19. Symptoms, when seen, are typically mild, and fewer than 30 children have died because of COVID-19 in the UK as of March 2021.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine that has been Authorized in the UK for those aged 12 or older. This Authorization followed a U.S. 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 Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccinations in millions of younger adults.
As of July 7, 2021, the United Kingdom Medicines & Healthcare Regulatory Agency had received 456 Yellow Card reports of suspected adverse drug reactions to the Pfizer- BioNTech vaccine in which the patient died shortly after vaccination, 983 reports for the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria), and 7 for the COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna (SpikeVax). The majority of these Yellow Card reports in the UK were in older people or people with underlying illnesses.
Until more safety data is available and has been evaluated, a precautionary approach is preferred.
Professor Anthony Harnden, Deputy Chair of the JCVI, said in a press statement issued on July 19, 2021, “The primary aim of the vaccination program has always been to prevent hospitalizations 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.”
Operationally, it is considered reasonable to allow a lead-in time to offer vaccination to adolescents within three months of their 18th birthday to ensure good uptake in newly turned 18-year-olds, concluded this JVCI announcement.
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