At the end of February the government published the ‘COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021’ guidance, which sets out the four steps or roadmap the government has formulated to lift lockdown. Step one of this plan included the reopening of all schools and colleges on the 8th of March 2021, but what is the current situation with the Covid-19 vaccines and young people?
None of the vaccines currently available in the UK are licenced for use in people under the age of 16 and only the Pfizer vaccine is licenced for those age 16-18. Therefore, current advice states that vaccination for children and young people is not advised, apart from for a very small number identified by the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) as (a) those under 16 at risk and (b) extremely clinically vulnerable young people aged 16 and over. The former group includes children at very high risk of exposure and serious outcomes, such as older children (aged 12-15) with severe neuro-disabilities who tend to get recurrent respiratory tract infections and/or who frequently spend time in specialist residential care settings for children with complex needs, where the risk of exposure to infection and outbreaks may be high. Children and young people included in these groups are offered vaccination with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the AstraZeneca vaccine. The JCVI advice is that the decision about vaccination for these young people should be carefully discussed between parents/guardians and the GP or consultant responsible for the child or young person’s care.
For young people aged 16 and over, who have been identified as extremely clinically vulnerable, vaccination is being recommended and the government is now asking these young people to come forward to book a vaccination, via their GP practice, whilst still following shielding guidance until the end of March. Children under 16 years of age who have been identified as extremely clinically vulnerable but do not fall into the at risk group already outlined by JCVI are not recommended for vaccination.
Young adults aged 18 and above are due to be offered vaccination as the last cohort in the vaccination programme by the end of July 2021.
For children and young people aged under 18 who are not clinically vulnerable (or are not in the group JCVI have identified as at risk) there are currently no plans to offer vaccination. This is based on the JCVI advice that following infection almost all children will only have asymptomatic infection or mild disease. In addition there are very limited available data on Covid-19 vaccination in adolescents, and no data on the vaccination in younger children.
A trial of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been launched for children and young people aged six to 17. Three hundred children and young people have volunteered to take part in the trial to help establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people. The University of Oxford stated that this is the first trial of a Covid-19 vaccine in the six to 17 age group. Other trials have also begun but only measuring efficacy in those aged 16 and 17. England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, has said it is possible there will be some licensed children’s vaccines by the end of the year. As we move forward a clear plan for Covid-19 vaccination and children and young people seems important.
If you are a young person who is seeking advice and support about Covid-19 you can find a collection of resources on our website here.
More information on who is eligible for vaccination is available via the Covid-19 Green Book.