On 22 December, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announced new vaccination advice for children and young people.
They have recommended that children aged five to 11 who are in a clinical risk group or who live with someone who is immunosuppressed should be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (a third of the adult dose).
They have also recommended that Pfizer booster vaccines should be offered to 16 and 17 year olds; to 12 to 15 year olds who are clinically at risk or who live with someone who is immunosuppressed; and to 12 to 15 year olds who are severely immunocompromised and who have had a third primary dose.
We welcome the announcement that more groups of children and young people now have the choice about receiving a vaccine or a booster.
Children and young people have the right to life and to the best possible standard of health. Where they are at increased risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19 – or live with someone who is – the protection of a vaccine can give them and their families additional reassurance.
The right to health does not just involve protection from the virus, but also recognition of the impact on children and young people’s mental health due to isolation, uncertainty, disruption to education, and other factors. The decision to offer vaccinations and boosters also engages and supports a wide range of other children’s rights, including education, rest, leisure and play, and respect for family life.
Children and young people have the right to access appropriate information on decisions that affect them. They should have any questions on vaccination answered in a way they can understand. It is essential that decisions about the vaccine rollout are communicated directly to children so they can understand why they are being offered the vaccine, or boosters, and make an informed choice. It is important that there is no stigma attached to the choices that children make about vaccination.
Parents and carers play an important role in supporting the decision-making around whether a child chooses to get vaccinated, so it is important that they too have access to the necessary information to support that choice. This is particularly important for younger children.
The office is in constant dialogue with Children’s Commissioners and ombudspersons across Europe and we are also tracking other countries’ approaches to rolling out the vaccination for primary school children. Many are moving quickly, indeed the US approved vaccinating this age group with Pfizer on 2 November, with Canada issuing a similar approval on 19 November, Australia on 5 December, France on 20 December, and Belgium and New Zealand made a similar announcement on 21 December.
As part of the World Health Organization’s Technical Advisory Group on Schooling During Covid-19, we have consistently called for further evidence to ascertain the optimum set of mitigation strategies, including vaccination of children, that would achieve the full range of health, social, and educational aspirations for the entire population, particularly children.
We note that the JCVI intends to issue further advice regarding vaccination for other five to 11 year olds in due course, after reviewing additional data.
The Commissioner’s office also supports the offer of vaccination to five to 11 year olds, once all necessary approvals and safeguards have been completed. We are aware that the JCVI is reviewing the data, and we would urge all involved to make this a priority.