Campaigners have described plans to vaccinate some clinically vulnerable children as “a huge relief to many families”.
The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended vaccinating children aged 12-15 if they are at higher risk of Covid-19.
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These include children with severe neurodisability such as cerebral palsy, autism or epilepsy, children with down’s syndrome and those with a severely weakened immune system, including some children with cancer, or profound and multiple learning difficulties.
The JCVI has also recommended immunising 12- to 17-year-olds who live with people who have a suppressed immune system, as a form of indirect protection.
Those at higher risk who are already aged 16 or 17 can be vaccinated under existing rules and all young people within three months of turning 18 will also be offered the Pfizer jab.
The plans come after parents of clinically vulnerable children said they were “terrified” as Covid-19 restrictions lifted in England on Monday (19 July).
Contact, a charity supporting families of children with disabilities, described the news as a “huge relief”.
Amanda Batten, chief executive of Contact, said: “Since the Pfizer vaccine was found safe for 12- to 15-year-olds by the UK regulator in June, they have felt abandoned and frustrated that the guidance has taken so long. Many families felt fearful as cases have risen and restrictions lifted.”
She added: “It’s vital that the roll-out to the identified groups is done as swiftly as possible. The timing of today’s announcement means that these youngsters won’t get two jabs before schools go back in September. And we are concerned there will be some families disappointed because their child doesn’t fall into the categories identified today as able to get the vaccine.
“They were asked to shield at the advice of government and some are understandably still worried. They need reassurance that their child is no longer at risk of serious illness with data and facts used by the JCVI in drawing up their list.
“Families have campaigned tirelessly for this day over the last seven months, speaking out, writing to the JCVI and Vaccines Minister and we are proud to have worked alongside them.”
A statement from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: “Clarity and more detail about who exactly will be included in these groups is required as a matter of urgency both for families and also for paediatricians and primary care professionals who will inevitably be asked for advice from patients and their parents or carers.
“Government and the NHS must move quickly to ensure that much needed guidance, information and resources are made available to professionals, patients, parents or carers, so that there is informed implementation of this next stage of the vaccination programme.”