NHS England officials said the health service is ready to extend the availability of vaccines quickly when and if expert recommendations for who should receive them change, after a report suggested plans to give the Covid jab to children aged five to 11 could become reality next year.
Covid-19 vaccines are licensed in the UK only for children aged 12 and over, and any decision on extending them to children younger than 12 would be made by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
According to a report in the Sun newspaper, leaked proposals suggest that health bosses are preparing to roll out the jab to children aged between five and 11 in the spring.
An unnamed source told the Sun that plans for who gets the jab could change, adding that asking parents for permission to vaccinate young children “is in the schedule”.
The MHRA said vaccines would only be authorised for children in this age category if safety, quality and effectiveness standards had been met.
If the MHRA were to extend the licence for younger children, the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI) would advise the government on how to interpret such a guidance change before the vaccines would be rolled out.
A spokesperson said: “Extending the use of a Covid-19 vaccine to children aged five to 11 would only be authorised if the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness are met. As with children aged 12 and above, parents can be fully assured that for any potential authorisation in this age group, the safety of the children would be our top priority.”
Asked about the newspaper report, NHS England said: “The NHS regularly plans for how it would operationalise opening vaccines to more people so it is ready to extend the jab quickly when and if any decision is recommended by the JCVI.”
In the UK, children aged 12 to 15 have been eligible for one Covid-19 jab since September. The JCVI is yet to make a recommendation on second jabs for children in this age group who haven’t been infected with the virus.
US health officials approved giving a third of a normal Pfizer Covid vaccine dose to five to 11-year-olds in early November, a move that means 28 million children in that age group will become eligible for a child-sized Covid shot.
Hong Kong on Saturday approved lowering the age limit for the Covid-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech to three years, down from 18.
This week, experts from the UK Health Security Agency said children aged 12 and over who have contracted the virus should not get a vaccine until 12 weeks later.
Deferring the jab could help to reduce even further the “very, very small” risk of heart inflammation after vaccination, the experts said.