Low uptake of Covid vaccine among five to 11-year-olds in England

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Just seven percent of children aged five to 11 in England have received a Covid vaccine in the six weeks since they were made available to the younger age group. The Guardian reports that take-up has been low as parents hesitate over whether to get their children vaccinated.

A significantly higher 24% of 12 to 15-year-olds received a first dose within six weeks of becoming eligible in September 2021. Scientists believe a combination of questions about the benefits of vaccinating children against Covid when most experience mild symptoms and concerns over rare side effects have led to parents’ hesitancy.

However, they have warned that the perception of Covid being relatively harmless to young children fails to take into account the number of youngsters ending up with long Covid. Professor Russell Viner of University College London, who was part of the now-disbanded Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told the Guardian that parents should be reassured by the near absence of side-effects after widespread take-up in the US, which approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine last November.

“It’s a vaccination that probably isn’t particularly beneficial for this age group,” Viner said. “However, it has a very, very good safety profile. And given that we remain in a pandemic, there’s an argument that for individual parents, the balance of risks would appear to be towards vaccination.

“The benefits for the whole healthy population [of five to 11-year-olds] are particularly around a reduction in school disruption, and the prevention of onward transmission to others,” he said. “However, for Omicron, the vaccines are pretty poor at preventing onward transmission.

“So I think the benefits of vaccination for this age group are very marginal. But that’s different for those who are highly clinically vulnerable. They are vulnerable to any respiratory virus and Covid is more serious than others.”

Oxfordshire had the highest vaccine uptake for five to 11-year-olds, with 12%, while Knowsley in Merseyside had the fewest, with 3%, according to the latest NHS vaccine data up to 8 May.

“All the data on vaccine uptake shows very significant inequalities,” Viner said. “So it will be those children who are in the more clinically vulnerable groups from the more deprived parts of the population who I would be most worried about.”

Dr Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control and former chair of the BMA Public Health Medicine Committee, warned that parents should be aware that a significant proportion of children go on to develop long Covid.

“Some will sustain damage to their organs or immune system that could leave them still unwell months or years after infection,” he told the Guardian.

An NHS spokesperson told the Guardian: “Getting vaccinated is a personal choice between families and their children, and we have now sent invites to everyone eligible, providing parents with information to allow them to make an informed decision, while they can also talk to their doctor or a local healthcare professional if they have questions.”

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