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Children aged five and over will be the next group to be offered a coronavirus vaccine, a public health expert has said.
On Monday, the UK’s chief medical officers said healthy children aged 12 to 15 should be offered one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
In England, invitations for one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab will begin next week, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed on Tuesday.
Pfizer is now reportedly preparing its case for vaccinating children aged five to 11 in various countries, with the US expected to offer jabs to that group by the end of October.
Watch: COVID vaccine approved for 12- to 15-year-olds in UK
Professor Devi Sridhar, personal chair in global public health at the University of Edinburgh, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Tuesday that Pfizer is applying for its vaccine to be rolled out to young children in the US.
She said: “It looks like Pfizer is going for approval of the vaccine for five- to 11-year-olds in the United States in October, so this is going to be the next issue on the horizon – once we deal with the 12- to 17-year-olds, whether we do that for the under-12s.”
The Reuters news agency reported at the end of last week that top US health officials believe Pfizer’s vaccine could be authorised for five- to 11-year-olds by the end of next month.
It is thought that Pfizer will have enough data from clinical trials to seek emergency-use authorisation for that age group from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by the end of September.
It is expected the FDA would take three weeks to make a decision on whether the jab is safe and effective for that age group, meaning an October rollout.
Reuters also reported that a Moderna jab for children aged five to 11 could be available in November.
In an interview last Friday with German newspaper Der Spiegel, BioNTech co-founder and chief medical officer Özlem Türeci said the company will soon be seeking approval for the Pfizer vaccine to be used in children aged five and over – and that it will have data on the jab’s impact on babies by the end of this year.
“In the coming weeks, we will present the results of our study on five- to 11-year-olds to authorities worldwide and apply for approval of the vaccine for this age group, including here in Europe,” she said.
“The data is currently being compiled. We expect to have the data on the younger children from the age of six months by the end of the year.”
Israel, which has one of the world’s highest COVID-19 vaccination rates, is already giving the Pfizer vaccine to medically vulnerable children aged five to 11.
In the UK, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) had previously advised against offering COVID-19 vaccinations to 12- to 15-year-olds, saying the medical benefits were only marginal.
However, in their advice the UK’s four chief medical officers stressed the impact of missed schooling due to coronavirus on children’s education and mental wellbeing.
Prof Sridhar said mixed messaging surrounding jabs for 12- to 15-year-olds “hasn’t helped”.
She told Good Morning Britain: “There hasn’t really been new evidence that’s come up in the UK shift in position, so I think part of that is why we have had mixed messaging – they’re trying to explain to people why they’re doing something now that they didn’t do two months ago.
“Every virologist I know, whether it’s in Germany or in France or in the States or Canada, have gotten their child vaccinated as soon as they become eligible, it hasn’t been something they struggled with, it’s been, ‘Actually I want to protect my child as fast as possible.’”
Zahawi said parental consent would be sought before vaccines are administered to children aged 12 to 15.
In the “rare event” that a parent declined but the child wanted the jab anyway, there would be a procedure to enable them to receive it if they were deemed “competent”.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the JCVI, said there will be a “grade of competency” based on age when considering whether a child’s decision to take a vaccine against a parent’s wishes can be honoured.
When asked whether he would feel comfortable about a 12-year-old child taking up their offer of a vaccine if their parent had not consented, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I wouldn’t feel comfortable about that.
“I think we have to be really careful that we go by the law, and the law clearly states that the child and parent should try to come to an agreed conclusion.
“But that if the child wants to go ahead or doesn’t want to go ahead and the parent feels absolutely the opposite, then the clinician involved in administering the vaccine needs to be absolutely sure that the child is competent to make that decision.
“There will be a grade of competency from the age of 16 downwards, so 14- to 15-year-olds may be deemed competent to make that decision on their own, it’s less likely that a 12- or 13-year-old will be deemed competent.”
The government is set to outline its COVID winter plan later on Tuesday.
It is expected all over-50s will be offered a booster jab – starting with the over-70s and the most vulnerable.
The shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be administered at least six months after the second dose amid concerns the protection it gives to older people fades over time.
Watch: Lockdowns a 'last resort' to combat COVID this winter, says vaccines minister