An article from the website The Counter Signal, which has been shared on Facebook, was headlined: “UK bans vaccine for kids under 12”. It went on to say that the UK had “banned doctors from giving the Covid-19 vaccine to children under 12, saying kids don’t need it and they are likely already to have natural immunity”. This is not true.
Those turning five on or after 1 September 2022 are only eligible if they are in certain risk groups or in close contact with someone who is immunosuppressed. But this does not represent a change in policy, as from the outset, the vaccine offer to those aged five to 11 who are not in high-risk groups was a temporary one and only for those who turned five by the end of August 2022.
The Covid-19 vaccine has not been “banned” for those aged five to 11 in the UK and almost all who are currently in that age group can still get vaccinated.
After we contacted The Counter Signal for comment, it corrected its article to remove the word “ban”. However, the article’s amended headline—“UK ends vaccine for kids under 12”—is still potentially misleading as most children currently aged five to 11 continue to be eligible for vaccination.
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How the vaccine programme was extended to younger children
In December 2021, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government on vaccinations, advised that children aged five to 11 who were in a clinical risk group—so for example had diabetes—or were a household contact of someone who was immunosuppressed should be offered two 10 microgram doses of the Pfizer vaccine. (Children over 12 and adults get 30 micrograms.)
Then in February 2022, the JCVI advised that there should be a “non-urgent” offer of two 10 microgram doses of the Pfizer vaccine to children between five and 11 who weren’t in a clinical risk group or a close contact of someone immunosuppressed. The JCVI described this at the time as a “one-off pandemic response programme”.
The JCVI said: “The intention of this offer is to increase the immunity of vaccinated individuals against severe Covid-19 in advance of a potential future wave of Covid-19.”
It added that getting the Covid-19 vaccine “should not displace the delivery” of other paediatric immunisation programmes.
Children who turned five before 1 September are still eligible for vaccination
When the JCVI first announced the extension of the vaccine programme to younger children, it was clear that it would cover those who turned five by the end of August 2022. And the government’s Green Book, which provides health professionals with the latest information on vaccines, says the programme applied “to those aged 5 to 11 years, including those who turn five years of age before the end of August 2022”.
As the end of August has now passed, children who are turning five are now no longer being offered the vaccine, unless they are in a high-risk group. Giving the vaccine to children of this age hasn’t been “banned” because of any new information—it has just stopped at the time it was planned to.
Gavin Dabrera, Deputy Director of Covid-19 Vaccines and Epidemiology at the UK Health Security Agency, told Full Fact: “There has been no change to the offer of Covid-19 vaccinations for children aged 5-11 years. In February 2022, the JCVI advised a one-off, non-urgent offer for children aged 5-11 years who were not in clinical risk groups.
“From the outset, this offer was only applicable to children who turned five years old by 31 August 2022. The NHS in England vaccinates in line with this guidance and eligible children who turned five by 31 August can still come forward for the jab.”
The Green Book says that “subject to further clarification, on-going eligibility in 2022/23, after the one off-programme, is expected to be for children in the academic years where children are aged 11 or 12 years”.
What about children in high-risk groups?
The NHS website currently says that children who turned five on or after 1 September 2022 can get a first or second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine if they are at high risk due to a health condition or weakened immune system, or they live with someone who has a weakened immune system. The Green Book has full details of which conditions are included in the high risk groups.
These children can also get an autumn booster.
No evidence for claims the vaccine was ‘banned’ because of developmental concerns
The Counter Signal’s article appears to use a tweet from US doctor and campaigner Dr Simone Gold as the basis for its claim. The tweet says: “BREAKING: Children in the UK aged 5-11 will no longer be offered Covid jabs. The jab was also banned from children who had not turned five by the end of last month. This decision was due to concerns with developmental side effects in children.”
This is not accurate in several different ways.
As above, almost all children in the UK who are currently aged five to 11 are still eligible for vaccination. Vaccination has not been “banned” for children who had not turned five by the end of last month and indeed those who are in high-risk groups will still be vaccinated.It’s not clear why Dr Simone Gold claimed that eligibility had changed because of concerns with developmental side effects. We contacted her to ask for the evidence behind her claim but had not had a response at the time of the publication. The UK Health Security Agency told us there was no truth to the claim, and said as outlined above that there had been no change to the eligibility criteria since its extension of the vaccination programme to children who weren’t high risk in February 2022.
Image courtesy of the CDC