All children aged five to 11 in England will be offered a Covid-19 vaccine, the UK government said Wednesday, following similar announcements in the rest of the UK.
The move, coming nearly two months after British regulators approved Pfizer and BioNTech’s shot for use among the age group, sees Britain following the lead of the United States, the European Union and other countries.
It has only been vaccinating at-risk under-12s and those who live with immuno-suppressed people, using a lower-dose formulation of the jab that was found to be “safe and effective”.
However, Health Secretary Sajid Javid — who has responsibility for England only — said he had now accepted guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises UK health departments, to expand the rollout.
“The NHS (National Health Service) will prepare to extend this non-urgent offer to all children during April so parents can, if they want, take up the offer to increase protection against potential future waves of Covid-19 as we learn to live with this virus,” he said in a statement.
Javid added the priority remained offering vaccines and boosters to adults and vulnerable youngsters, noting that children without underlying health conditions are at low risk of serious illness from coronavirus.
Hours earlier, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced Scotland would also start jabbing five to 11-year-olds, while Wales unveiled the same policy the previous day.
Northern Ireland also followed suit on Wednesday.
The US was the first large country to begin jabbing under-12s in November and said last month it had so far vaccinated more than eight million of them.
Pfizer and BioNTech announced earlier this month that they are seeking emergency authorisation from US health regulators for use of their jab for children aged over six months and under five years.
Meanwhile the European Union’s medicines watchdog approved the firms’ shot for five to 11-year-olds in November, and several EU nations started vaccinating them the following month.
Other countries around the world, including Israel, China, Argentina, have also begun jabbing the age group.
However, some nations such as Sweden have opted against the move, continuing to recommend jabs only for at-risk children.
Meanwhile, Africa is lagging behind the more developed world in vaccinating its adult population.
Just over 11 percent of Africans are vaccinated, the lowest rate in the world, according to the World Health Organization.