Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) is an independent expert advisory committee, which advises United Kingdom health departments about immunisation, making recommendations about vaccination schedules and vaccine safety.
While there is a high level of strong population immunity developed over the past two-and-a-half years, the risk of severe illness from Covid-19 continues to be disproportionately higher in people in older age groups, residents in care homes for older adults and people with certain underlying health conditions. There also remains ongoing uncertainty about whether or how the virus will evolve and change, how long immunity will last, and the epidemiology of infection.
On 6 December 2022, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged six months to four years. The JCVI has met to review recent data related to Covid-19 paediatric vaccine trials, safety surveillance of paediatric Covid-19 vaccines in the United States, and the epidemiology of Covid-19 in the UK in children aged six months to four years.
When formulating advice in relation to childhood immunisations, the JCVI has consistently maintained that the focus should be on the potential benefits and harms of vaccination to children and young people themselves, with the prevention of severe Covid-19 (hospitalisations and deaths) in children and young people the primary aim. Throughout the pandemic, studies have shown that children are much less likely to develop severe Covid-19 disease than older adults. For the vast majority of children, SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with no, or mild, symptoms.
However, for a smaller proportion of children with pre-existing health conditions, the risk of severe illness is greater. The odds of admission to paediatric intensive care units with severe Covid-19 is more than seven times greater for infants and young children with underlying medical conditions compared to children without underlying medical conditions.
Therefore, the JCVI has advised that:
Children aged six months to four years in a clinical risk group (as defined in the Green Book) should be offered two 3microgram doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (Comirnaty®) with an interval of at least eight weeks between the first and second doses. The minimum interval between any vaccine dose and recent SARS-CoV-2 infection should be four weeks.
NHS Wales has been considering arrangements for vaccinating this group of children and further information will be made available to parents of eligible children to invite them to come forward for vaccination.
Alongside my UK counterparts, I have accepted this advice and I am extremely grateful to the NHS and everyone involved in the vaccination programme for their continued hard work.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.