COVID: Will the U.K. Vaccinate Children Under 12?

COVID: Will the U.K. Vaccinate Children Under 12?

Children & COVID-19 VaccinationCOVID: Will the U.K. Vaccinate Children Under 12?

By Paul Hunter

Published 2 December 2021

The U.K. Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunizations (JCVI) will help decide whether the U.K. should follow other countries – the U.S., Israel – in offering COVID-1 vaccines to all children aged five and over. When the JCVI weighed up vaccinating the next youngest age group – 12-to-15-year-olds – it found that the benefits were only “marginally greater than the potential known harms.” So marginal, in fact, that it advised against offering vaccines to this group. So, for the JCVI to give the green light to vaccinating over-fives, the health benefits will need to be more compelling than for 12-to-15-year-olds. But what does the evidence say?


Some countries, such as the U.S. and Israel, are now offering COVID vaccines to all children aged five and over. It’s a sign of how well vaccine rollout has gone in these places, but also that the pandemic is still raging on. Governments are going further and further to try to stay on top of the virus.

Could the U.K. follow suit? One group that will help decide is the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunizations (JCVI), the government’s adviser on vaccines. It has “consistently maintained” that when considering COVID vaccines for children, the main focus should be “the benefits to children themselves, balanced against any potential harms to them from vaccination”, rather than any other factors.


When the JCVI weighed up vaccinating the next youngest age group – 12-to-15-year-olds – it found that the benefits were only “marginally greater than the potential known harms.” So marginal, in fact, that it advised against offering vaccines to this group.


So for the JCVI to give the green light to vaccinating over-fives, the health benefits will need to be more compelling than for 12-to-15-year-olds. But what does the evidence say?


Risk vs Benefits
trial of the Pfizer vaccine in children aged five to 11 found it to be both safe and effective. In particular, no cases of heart inflammation (myocarditis) were identified. This has been a rare but noted side-effect of the mRNA-based COVID vaccines in younger people.


However, fewer than 2,000 children were vaccinated in the trial, which is insufficient to accurately identify the risk of such a rare complication. More broadly, there doesn’t yet appear to be sufficient data to estimate the risk of myocarditis in this age group after they get vaccinated. This makes calculating overall risk difficult.


Then there’s the question of benefits. This begins with asking whether the risk from the thing you’re concerned about – in this case COVID – is small enough to forgo interventions to try to control it.


There’s no general consensus about what size a risk has to be to be worth responding to, though a lifetime risk of death of less than one in 100,000 is often considered “tolerable” and less than one in a million “acceptable.”