The UK COVID-19 vaccine programme has been extended to include all children aged 5 and over. This has been carefully debated and weighed up, as to any potential risks and benefits, and how this affects both each individual child and the wider community. It remains up to parents to consent for any child under 16, and they must weigh up what’s best for their child. Whatever your final decision, let’s give you the facts as we understand them to help you on the way. The UK has been later than some countries to offer this to children, which gives us the advantage of their experience, so we now have worldwide data from tens of millions of children, along with lab data and that from the millions of adults vaccinated. It sounds a trite point in such a serious matter, but holidays are important to all of us, and it’s likely that as much of the world starts vaccinating children, it may become a condition of entry to visiting some countries. If you're 50-50, this may weigh into the decision.
The first thing on your mind will be not consenting to anything that can cause harm. While nothing comes with a 100% guarantee, the chance of a serious reaction to the vaccine is very very low. You may have heard of an inflammatory heart condition called myocarditis that received attention for a link to the vaccine – the risk of this occurring is extremely rare in young children. To put it in context, suspected myocarditis is reported in just 11 children per 1 million doses. But the risk of myocarditis from catching COVID-19, although still rare, is actually much higher. It’s worth being prepared for common but mild and temporary side effects after the vaccine. These are flu-like symptoms such as a mild fever, headaches, muscle aches and possibly a runny nose. These should improve in 1 to 3 days, and paracetamol can help. They might also complain of a sore arm for a few days, in the area they were jabbed. The vaccine does not contain live virus, so they cannot catch COVID-19 from the vaccine itself. It also does not contain eggs or animal products or alcohol and has been supported by leaders from the main faiths in the UK.
Your second main question is, is it worth it? Your child may have had COVID and perhaps had a mild disease or no symptoms at all. This is a tricky question and not one with a straightforward answer. Data shows two doses provide long-lasting protection and help reduce the spread of the virus to others. After an extensive review, the independent regulatory body for medicines (MHRA) has confirmed that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is very effective for children between the age of 5 and 15. It significantly reduces the risk of catching and passing it on, and if they do catch it, they are much less likely to be very unwell. But it’s true to say, the vast majority of children will only have a mild illness and will bounce back. In adults, it’s also been shown to reduce the risk of long COVID (post-COVID syndrome), and this is known to affect children, too. So then, there’s an argument to vaccinate children for the good of society. Reduced cases undeniably reduce the burden of severe disease in the wider community, especially for the frail and elderly or those with weakened immune systems. You may have strong feelings about whether this puts you for or against vaccinating your child. But for you and your family, it also reduces the number of days off school or work for illness or isolation. The regulatory bodies continue to closely monitor cases and provide updated guidance as necessary.
While COVID is circulating at high levels, there’s a good chance your child will catch it. It’s worth keeping a stock of lateral flow tests to check (although you will have to buy these yourself from 1 April 2022) and if positive, they should put off getting the vaccine. A total of 12 weeks is thought to be enough time for their immune system to recover from the infection and make the most of vaccine immunity. This is for both 1st and second doses. They have some immunity from a recent infection, but it doesn’t last as long as getting fully vaccinated. If they are in a high-risk category, their specialist doctor may suggest they bring this forward.
Most children will get both their doses offered during school hours at school. A school immunisation team will visit the school and oversee vaccine administration. A parent will be asked ahead of time to consent to the vaccine being given. It can also be arranged through walk-in community centres. Children aged 5 to 11 will be offered the smaller 10mcg dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine on two occasions at least 12 weeks apart. Those aged over 11 will be offered the 30mcg dosage on each occasion, which is the same as for adults. When the vaccine is administered, it's likely your child will be in a waiting area for observation, and this may be for up to 15 minutes, especially if they have any history of allergies. Although allergic reactions are extremely rare. The yearly flu vaccine may be due at a similar time, especially in autumn or winter, and it's safe for your child to have both on the same day. Each vaccine will need to be expressly consented for by a parent or guardian. *Information correct on 2 March 2022