Vaccines for children aged five to 11 “may reduce the risks children may face in a possible future wave of this or another variant”, one expert has said.
Experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended that children in this age bracket should be offered a lower dose of a vaccine.
Children in England will begin to receive invites from April.
But officials have cautioned that the rollout should not interrupt vaccine programmes for other childhood illnesses such as measles or the HPV jab.
Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and member of the JCVI, said: “The risks posed by Covid in this age group are low but they exist and parents may wish to reduce them by having their children immunised.
“The programme will not impact significantly on the current omicron wave in children but may reduce the risks children may face in a possible future wave of this or another variant.
“Common side effects such as fever, headaches and malaise do occur in some children following this vaccine but do not last more than a day or two in most cases. Nevertheless, they may result in some school absence.
“More serious side effects are reported in this age group but are extremely rare and are minimised by using a lower vaccine dose than in adults and a wide 12 week interval between the two doses.
“It will be important that the deployment of this part of the Covid vaccine programme does not result in children failing to receive doses of other important vaccines, for example against meningitis, cervical cancer and measles, in a timely way.”
Matt Keeling, professor of populations and disease at the University of Warwick, added: “It’s great to see this statement made public, and I’m sure it will be a substantial relief to many parents.
“We now have a very good understanding of the risks from the mRNA vaccines, and therefore know that the risks to this age group – who receive a smaller dose – are minimal.”
He added: “Covid-19 remains primarily a disease of the elderly and vulnerable, therefore while the offer to vaccinate five to 11 year olds will be welcomed by many we should not expect it to have a large impact on the overall level of severe disease.”
Dr Simon Williams, senior lecturer in people and organisation at Swansea University, said: “A growing amount of data and research suggests that many parents, including parents of younger children, want the choice of a vaccine.
“Research, including our own study, found that public and parents views on children’s vaccination are complex and often divided.
“However, a number of polls, including one by Ipsos Mori last year, found that a majority of parents, including parents of younger children, would want their child to get vaccinated if possible.
“The point is not that parents should be forced, pressured, or expected to have their child vaccinated – there is as we know much less risk of severe outcomes for children from Covid-19 – but rather that parents should be given the choice.”
Dr Peter English, retired consultant in communicable disease control, said: “The evidence is overwhelming that the vaccine is safe in children.
“Many other countries have been vaccinating children aged five upwards for months now; the evidence of safety is overwhelming.
“The UK has been dragging its feet on this issue.”
Dr Brian Ferguson, associate professor of immunology at the University of Cambridge, said that a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January “formalised the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine in this age group”.
He added: “Additionally, millions of children in this age group in other countries, such as USA and Germany, have now had this vaccine and suffered little or no side effects.”
“There is an argument that it is now too late to offer the vaccine to this age group as Covid has torn through primary schools this winter, however, there are children who have not yet been exposed to Covid who will benefit from immunisation, and immunological data indicates that vaccination following infection generates powerful, broadly-neutralising antibodies that protect from most or all tested Sars-CoV-2 variants.
“Covid vaccination can also in some cases help reduce long Covid symptoms. As such there remain good reasons to vaccinate children in this age group.”