Around half a million children in England will become eligible for a first dose of a coronavirus shot on Monday, as the National Health Service extends its vaccine rollout to children ages 5 to 11 who are considered most at risk of contracting the virus.
Those children who are deemed clinically vulnerable, or who live with someone who has a weakened immune system, will be offered a low-dose form of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in two shots, set eight weeks apart.
The pediatric formulation of the Pfizer vaccine contains one-third of the adult dose and was approved by the British medicine regulator last month.
Britain in December 2020 became the first country in the world to kick off a mass coronavirus vaccination campaign, but expanding the program to children has happened at a slower pace. It began offering a first dose to children aged 12 through 15 in September last year and the authorities have not yet made any decision on when all children aged 5 through 11 will become eligible for a first dose.
Since November 2021, the United States has fully vaccinated more than five million children in the 5-to-11 age group, though health experts are concerned that the rate of vaccination for children has stalled.
The number of children in England testing positive for the coronavirus increased from the start of this month to the week ending Jan. 22, according to the latest figures from Britain’s Office for National Statistics, with the highest percentage of cases in children ages 2 to 11. That has happened despite a drop in overall cases since Britain’s daily caseload peaked at over 190,000 at the beginning of this month, a surge fueled by the Omicron variant.
“We know vaccines give significant protection against severe illness from Covid — including the Omicron variant, so it is important that our youngest and most at-risk get protected,” the deputy lead for the N.H.S. England vaccine program, Dr. Nikki Kanani said in a news release on Sunday.