Thousands of families with vulnerable children face uncertainty over Covid-19 vaccine - here's why

Thousands of families with vulnerable children face uncertainty over the Covid-19 vaccine (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)Thousands of families with vulnerable children face uncertainty over the Covid-19 vaccine (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Thousands of families with vulnerable children face uncertainty over the Covid-19 vaccine (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Across England, there are more than 56,100 children under 18 on the Shielded Patient List of extremely vulnerable people, which is compiled using a clinical algorithm, as well as GP referrals, to include those at high risk of severe illness.

However, while adults who are clinically extremely vulnerable are among the priority groups being offered Covid vaccines during the first phase of the rollout, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has warned that there “is very limited data on vaccination in adolescents, with no data on vaccination in younger children, at this time”.

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Review on vaccinating vulnerable young people won’t come until after initial rollout

While children are now being included in the latter stages of ongoing trials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, a review of recommendations for vaccinating vulnerable young people will not take place until after the initial rollout.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) did not respond to specific questions about the vaccination options for families of younger, clinically vulnerable patients.

A DHSC spokesperson said that very few children and young people were at risk of severe illness due to Covid-19, and that doctors were reviewing the shielding list to confirm those initially identified as clinically extremely vulnerable.

Parents are concerned for their children’

Contact, a charity that supports families with disabled children, said parents needed greater clarity from the Government and the JCVI.

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Una Summerson, head of policy at Contact, said: “We would welcome information on the approach the Government’s expert committee is taking to find an appropriate vaccine for children with long term and rare conditions.

“It might be that some of these children can’t have a vaccine and that’s why it’s so important that their parents are vaccinated as soon as possible. Vaccinating their parents will help protect clinically vulnerable children.

“The parents we support are worried about two things - getting the virus and not being able to look after their child, and passing the virus on to their medically vulnerable children.

“We know that people with underlying health conditions and learning disabilities are much more likely to die of Covid-19, so there is understandable fear and anxiety.”

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‘Further data required'

The Green Book, which has all the latest information on vaccines in the UK, notes that while children may have a very low risk of contracting severe or deadly Covid-19 compared to adults, there is an increased risk of exposure to infection and outbreaks for disabled children in institutional settings.

The Green Book states: “Vaccination may be considered for children with serious neuro-disabilities (including cerebral palsy, severe autism and Down’s syndrome) who spend regular time in specialised residential care settings for children with complex needs.

“As older children have higher risk of acquiring and becoming sick from infection and there are some safety data on the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine in children aged 12 years and older, vaccination of older children in these settings should be considered.”

The document warned that to do so would be outside of the terms of Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approval, and so “would be considered unlicensed use”.

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‘Research is essential’

The Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health said it expects to see more safety data to be gathered from clinical trials to inform strategies for vaccination of under 16s.

A spokesperson said: “This research is essential to ensure paediatricians are equipped to discuss the immunisation with children, young people and parents and can address any questions they may have about the vaccine.

“Further data on the effect of vaccines on transmission of the virus is needed to shape strategies to cocoon those who cannot be vaccinated (due to immunosuppression or immunocompromised) by vaccinating close family and household contacts.”