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Covid vaccines now available for five to 11-year olds in England



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April 2: Parents and carers of five to 11-year olds in England can book a low-dose Covid vaccine for their children from Saturday morning.

Jabs can be booked online and will be available from hundreds of sites from Monday.

It comes as officials estimate that a record 4.9 million people in the UK have the virus - up from 4.3 million the week before.

The figures were released as free tests end for most people in England.

The UK's vaccine advisers said the jabs would help "future-proof children's defences" against infections.

 

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already offer the jabs.

In general, most children are not at high risk of becoming severely ill from Covid.

In February, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said vaccines should go ahead to prevent "a very small number of children from serious illness and hospitalisation" in a future wave of Covid.

It recommends two doses of the low-dose vaccine, 12 weeks apart, with some five million children now eligible.

The vaccine - which contains just a third of the adult dose - has already been used widely in other countries.

 

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and deputy lead for the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme, said vaccines remained the best defence against the virus.

She added: "My 13-year-old son has had his two vaccinations, and I'll be booking my 10-year-old daughter in for hers at the earliest opportunity, and would encourage all parents to read the NHS information available and consider doing the same."

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: "Children without underlying health conditions are at low risk of serious illness from Covid, and the priority remains for the NHS to offer vaccines and spring boosters to adults and vulnerable young people, as well as to catch up with other childhood immunisation programmes."

Most appointments will be available at local vaccination centres and community pharmacies. Options for walk-in jabs will also be on offer.

Parents and guardians of eligible children will be sent invitations from the NHS in the next few weeks.

Young children who have conditions that put them at increased risk from Covid, or who live with people with weakened immune systems, have already been offered jabs.

The wider rollout of jabs for children comes after the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics suggest that about one in every 13 people in the UK has coronavirus, with cases reaching nearly 5 million.

The figures for the week ending 26 March are thought to give the most accurate reflection of what's happening with the virus in the community.

The surge is partly driven by the contagious Omicron BA.2 sub-variant and people mixing more.

 


Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Jim McManus, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said: "We expected when the government took the ... restrictions off that numbers would rise. The transmissibility of this variant means they have risen very quickly and very large."

He added: "If you look at the reinfection rates, which are clearly problematic, this vaccine doesn't in and of itself stop transmission - nobody is claiming that. But quite clearly it's the break between serious death and disease and infection."

Meanwhile, the government's "living with Covid" plan means free testing will only continue for certain groups - including some people with weakened immune systems, people admitted to hospitals and health and care staff.