Independent SAGE welcomes the JCVI statement on 16 February 2022 recommending that all 5 to 11 year olds be offered paediatric dose covid vaccinations.
While it has come too late to prevent the large wave of infections spanning January and February, we agree with JCVI that vaccines provide important protection in the event of future surges and in the face of current ongoing very high levels of infection.
We also note that vaccine uptake in 12-15 year olds remains much lower than for older age groups, with just 56% having received a single dose and 24% a second. Critically, this is further affected by inequality as 74% of 12-15 year olds from the least deprived areas have had one dose versus only 44% of those in the most deprived.
It is imperative that more is done to avoid low uptake in primary school age children and that parents can access vaccines easily and in a timely manner. In this regard, we remain concerned that the “non-urgent” messaging around this announcement might adversely affect uptake and strongly advocate prioritising the rollout so as to mitigate harm from the ongoing wave of infection.
We further call upon the government, health leaders and JCVI to explain that the vaccine is very safe and effective for 5-11 year olds; notably the lower dose in this age group further reduces the already small risk of vaccine-induced myocarditis to virtually nil. Even though severe outcomes from covid infection in this age group are rare compared with adults, they do occur. We saw record paediatric covid-related admissions over December and January as the Omicron wave hit. Vaccines help prevent severe outcomes and onward transmission, ultimately helping to keep children in school.