The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that children with an increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19 should be offered the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The new advice comes following a request from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for guidance relating to a possible extension of the COVID-19 vaccination programme in England.

The JCVI, which advises UK health departments on immunisation, considered all the available evidence relating to vaccinating children and young people under the aged of 18 years.

Children at risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease includes those aged 12 to 15 years old with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities.

The JCVI has also recommended that children and young people aged 12 to 17 years old who live in the same household as an immunosuppressed person should also be offered the vaccine.

“The primary aim of the vaccination programme has always been to prevent hospitalisations and deaths. Based on the fact that previously well children, if they do get COVID-19, are likely to have a very mild form of the disease, the health benefits of vaccinating them are small,” said Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the JCVI.

“The benefits of reducing transmission to the wider population from children are also highly uncertain, especially as vaccine uptake is very high in older people who are at highest risk from serious COVID-19 infection. We will keep this advice under review as more safety and effectiveness information becomes available,” he added.

The JCVI added that there are minimal health benefits of offering a universal COVID-19 vaccination to children, as evidence shows that COVID-19 rarely causes severe disease in children without underlying health conditions.