By Alistair Smout
LONDON -Britain said on Wednesday it would offer COVID-19 vaccines to all 5-11 year olds, widening the rollout of vaccines in children in a decision that has been taken more slowly than in some other countries.
Announcing the move, health minister Sajid Javid said he had accepted advice from experts who argued that vaccinating young children would help protect against future waves of the coronavirus.
Britain has offered COVID-19 shots to vulnerable children, but has been slower than the likes of the United States, Canada, Ireland and Israel in making a broad offer of shots to all 5- to 11-year-olds.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that shots for the cohort would help increase protection against severe illness in children should there be future waves of COVID-19.
Javid said the government accepted the advice for England, and preparations for the rollout were under way within the National Health Service (NHS).
"The NHS will prepare to extend this non-urgent offer to all children during April," he said. "So parents can, if they want, take up the offer to increase protection against potential future waves of COVID-19 as we learn to live with this virus."
The British government will set out further detail of its plan for living with COVID on Monday.
The JCVI said that there was a non-urgent offer of the Pfizer BioNTech paediatric COVID vaccine for the age group, with at least 12 weeks between doses.
All four nations of the United Kingdom have followed JCVI guidance on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Scotland and Wales had already said it would accept JCVI advice in favour of vaccination for children aged 5-11.
Britain has reported 160,000 deaths from COVID-19, and while it has moved quickly to vaccinate the elderly and most vulnerable, it has taken a more cautious approach on COVID shots for children.
Peter English, a retired consultant in Communicable Disease Control said that while deaths from COVID in children were rare, vaccines were important for minimising long COVID or severe outcomes in children, adding that the shots were safe.
"Many other countries have been vaccinating children aged 5 upwards for months now; the evidence of safety is overwhelming," English said. "The UK has been dragging its feet on this issue."
(Reporting by Alistair Smout, editing by William James, William Maclean)