U.K. to Give Covid-19 Vaccines Only to Most Vulnerable Children

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Only the most vulnerable children and those living with at-risk adults will receive Covid-19 vaccinations in the U.K., the government said Monday, ruling out a broader program due to fears over rare side effects.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be offered to 12 to 15-year-olds with severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s Syndrome, immunosuppression and profound learning disabilities, as well as children aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person, officials said. It will also be offered to healthy 17-year-olds within three months of their 18th birthday.

The National Health Service will vaccinate those eligible “as soon as possible,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in an emailed statement. The move is expected to mean hundreds of thousands of children will get the vaccine.

But the decision not to adopt mass vaccination of children puts the U.K. on a different path to countries including the U.S. and France. The British position is driven by fears of rare cases of myocarditis -- an inflammation of the heart muscle -- and pericarditis -- an inflammation of membranes around the heart -- in younger people who have had the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Early international data suggests this appears to be more prevalent after the second dose. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, which advises the U.K. government, is keeping the emerging evidence under close review in the next few weeks and has not ruled out recommending a single-dose strategy for children and teenagers.

“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,” JCVI deputy chair Anthony Harnden said in an emailed statement.

Infection surge

Virtually all remaining Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in England on Monday but infections and hospitalizations are rising sharply. Some scientists have argued that vaccinating all children would significantly reduce transmission in the community and potentially protect them against so-called Long Covid.

Pfizer is the only vaccine approved in the U.K. for under-18s; previous advice meant that only 16 to 18-year-olds could get the shot if they were vulnerable or lived with a susceptible person.

While the European Union authorized the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children aged 12 and over in May and the U.K. in June, much of Europe has moved slowly on rolling it out to kids.

France and Italy are two of a small group of EU nations already offering adolescents the shot, though a number of others such as Austria are planning to make the vaccine available ahead of the school year in the fall.

By contrast, the U.S. has been vaccinating teenagers since May, with about 17 million 12 to 15-year-olds eligible. About five million have been vaccinated in the U.S. to date, and trials are ongoing for the Pfizer shot in younger children, with data expected later this year.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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