Wales has become the first UK nation to announce it will offer COVID-19 vaccines to all five to 11-year-olds.
Health minister Eluned Morgan said she has received the “yet to be published” final advice from the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on COVID-19 jabs for children aged five to 11 who are not judged to be at clinical risk.
“I have accepted this advice and thank the JCVI for scrutinising the science and evidence and setting out its advice in a careful and considered way,” Baroness Morgan said.
“Our intention, as it has been from the start of the pandemic, is to follow the clinical and scientific evidence.”
She said the full JCVI advice would be published in “due course”.
Delay to JCVI announcement ‘perplexing’
There has been a delay to the official announcement, reportedly because of disagreements between the UK government and the JCVI – with an announcement expected on 21 February.
Facing questions in a Plenary session at the Senedd, Baroness Morgan said the delay was a “shame” and “perplexing”.
“In relation to vaccination of children, the JCVI has yet to publish its report, although there are lots of clues in The Guardian and other places where there seems to have been lots of leaks come out,” she said.
“It’s a shame and it’s perplexing to understand why that has not been published yet.
“But I have seen a copy of that advice and we will be commencing the rollout of vaccinations for five to 11-year-olds.”
‘Very difficult decision’
Baroness Morgan did not lay out a timetable for when this would happen, saying: “We’re not going to do that as a matter of urgency, as we did over the Christmas period. That’s partly because the risk isn’t as great to that cohort.
“And we’re also waiting to hear from the JCVI to see whether they’ll need a booster on top of the booster for older age groups in the spring.”
She added: “Of course, it’s likely to have been a very difficult decision for the JCVI, because generally, children have a milder illness and fewer hospitalisations.
“But, of course, they have to balance that against the prospect of missing school.
“We have to consider very different issues when it comes to the vaccination of children as young as five years old, of course, so we’ll be in a position where we will expect those children to be accompanied by an adult.
“There will be a need for informed consent, but there will be an opportunity for siblings, for example, to be brought at the same time.”
‘No decisions’ made by Westminster government
In December, the JCVI updated its guidance to suggest that children aged five to 11 who are in a clinical risk group or who are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed should be offered a primary course of vaccination.
At that time, the vaccine experts said further advice regarding jabs for healthy five to 11-year-olds would be issued in due course “following consideration of additional data relevant to this age group and on the Omicron variant more broadly”.
The government in England is expected to make an announcement on jabs for all five to 11-year-olds next week.
“No decisions have been made by ministers on the universal offer of a COVID-19 vaccine to all five to 11-year-olds,” a spokesperson said.
“We are committed to reviewing the JCVI’s advice as part of wider decision-making ahead of the publication of our long-term strategy for living with COVID-19.”