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Covid: Hundreds of thousands of under-18s to get vaccine

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Children over 12 who are at higher risk of getting ill if they catch Covid will be offered the jab, the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has confirmed.

But the vast majority of children in the UK, who are low risk, will not be offered the vaccine for now.

However, some healthy children over 12 who live with other vulnerable people can have the vaccine, as well as those on the cusp of turning 18.

It means, overall, a few hundred thousand children will be eligible.

The UK is in marked contrast with other countries – such as the US and Canada – which have mass vaccinated children aged 12 to 17.

The decision is based on recommendations from the UK’s vaccines experts – the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Those newly eligible include vulnerable children, aged 12 to 15, with:

severe neurodisabilityDown’s syndromea severely weakened immune system, including some children with cancerthose with profound and multiple learning difficulties.

Vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds were already able to get the vaccine.

Those aged 12 to 17 will also be offered a vaccine if they live with somebody with a weak immune system.

Teenagers within three months of their 18th birthday will be offered the jab – the aim is to protect people leaving school before they start work or university.

Mr Zahawi said the NHS had been asked to offer the vaccine as soon as possible and that eligible children would be contacted by the health service.

They will all be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine because it is the only one approved for use in children aged 12 to 17 in the UK.

The European Medicines Agency says heart inflammation following the vaccine is a very rare side effect which can be treated with rest and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.

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Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chairman of the JCVI, said: “The primary aim of the vaccination programme has always been to prevent hospitalisations and deaths.

“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.”

Fewer than 30 children have died with Covid in the UK.

The JCVI also says the benefit of vaccinating children to prevent the virus spreading to older age groups is unclear with so many vulnerable adults already fully immunised.

Nor is there good evidence that giving children the vaccine could prevent them getting long Covid, says the JCVI.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Covid-19 vaccines have saved almost 37,000 lives and prevented around 11.7 million infections in England alone.

“They are building a wall of defence and are the best way to protect people from serious illness.”

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