The UK’s roll-out of Covid-19 vaccinations is likely to be extended to all children aged five to 11, one of the country’s leading experts in child health has said.
Russell Viner, professor of child and adolescent health at University College London, said he believed the “balance of risks” pointed towards vaccinating children in the age group when the impact of disruption to education from coronavirus was taken into account.

In December, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended vaccination for clinically vulnerable five to 11-year-olds, as well as those living with someone who is immunosuppressed.

However, the committee has yet to recommend vaccination for all children in the age group.

Professor Viner is a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and a past president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, but spoke to i in a personal capacity.

Asked whether routine vaccination should be extended to the age group, he said the “medical balance of risks” of giving younger children a jab would be “even more marginal than for teenagers”.

“Five to 11s are probably the group least affected by Covid disease,” he said. “The thing about Covid is it’s got the most extraordinary age risk profile… to be honest, five to 11 is the healthiest time of our life. It’s the time when we’re least likely to die or get sick from almost anything, and that is true of Covid.

“However, I expect and I would like [the Government] to include educational disruption and mental health issues in the decision, which is what happened with teenagers.

“I think it’s a very marginal medical decision, but if you include those broader issues, I think given the extremely promising safety profile in children – I don’t want to second-guess the JCVI – but I think the balance of risks is towards vaccination.”

Professor Viner said current data suggested the risk of myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart which is an extremely rare side effect of some Covid jabs – was far lower in primary-school-age children compared to older teens.

In the US, 4.8 million five to 11-year-olds had received a dose of the vaccine by 5 December. “We can be fairly sure that this is really a very safe vaccination for the five to 11-year-olds,” Professor Viner added.

However, he said the UK “should be under no illusions” that it would be easy to vaccinate the age group.

While most teenagers are able to “cope with a needle in the arm”, younger children are “much more likely to get distressed”, meaning vaccine centres will “need to have staff who are trained at dealing with distressed children”, he said.

Currently, flu vaccines in primary schools are delivered via a nasal spray, but this delivery method has not yet been approved for Covid-19.

With five to 11-year-olds also receiving jabs containing a lower amount of the vaccine, the NHS would have to ensure a steady supply of the paediatric dose to centres and train staff in administering it.

“There’s a whole lot of complexities about vaccinating children that I’m sure that the NHS is thinking through, but this won’t be easy,” Professor Viner said. “It won’t be as if the JCVI announces it and a month later we have all our children vaccinated.”