Covid vaccination of clinically vulnerable children labelled 'inconsistent' as mother pleads for jag

Decisions on Covid vaccination for clinically vulnerable under 16s in Scotland are “confusing” and “inconsistent”, a charity has said, as one mother pleaded for her 14-year-old daughter to be given a jag.

Katie Steel, 14, has cerebral and bulbar palsy, and has been advised by her neurologist to have a Covid vaccine.

While it is standard practice to vaccinate children aged 16 to 18 if they are clinically vulnerable, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) also advises that under 16s may be given a vaccine in exceptional cases.

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However, Katie’s care team was told by the Scottish Government’s Covid Hub she could not receive one.

Katie Steel and her mother, Clare.
Katie Steel and her mother, Clare.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie wrote to health secretary Humza Yousaf in May asking him to take up Katie’s case.

But the health secretary said JCVI advice has not been published on vaccination for all under 16s, and as such giving Katie a vaccine would be in breach of guidance.

Contact, a charity supporting families with disabled children, said it was aware of a small number of children aged 12 to 15 in England who had received a vaccine “off label”, from their own doctor.

The charity is not aware of any cases of this in Scotland Contact has campaigned for wider vaccination of vulnerable children under 16, and said this should be made easier for children in both England and Scotland.

Susan Walls, Contact Scotland manager, said: “Some parents have managed to secure a Covid vaccine ‘off label’ for their clinically vulnerable child aged 12 to 15. JCVI guidance says that in some exceptional circumstances the Covid vaccine may be used off-label for children of this age.

"But we know from families and our own research that there is confusion among doctors and clinicians, leading to an inconsistent approach over who does get it. And we believe the guidance applies to too small a group of children, and it should be widened.

“Many families are spending months of their time battling to get the vaccine so that their child can get back to school and friends after 15 months at home. While most children are at very low risk of serious illness from Covid, those with underlying health conditions need the vaccine to get their life back.”

When approached for comment, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said no children under 16 in England have been given a vaccine.

However, the DHSC has previously said that vaccination of clinically vulnerable under 16s can be done in exceptional circumstances.

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JCVI guidance states: “Children at very high risk of exposure and serious outcomes, such as older children with severe neuro-disabilities that require residential care, should be offered vaccination with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Clinicians should discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination with a person with parental responsibility, who should be told about the paucity of safety data for the vaccine in children aged under 16 years.”

Katie’s mother Clare Steel called the health secretary’s response “deeply disappointing”.

"There is nothing more important to my family than the safety of our daughter,” she said.

“But despite the best efforts of Katie’s doctors, the government has made it clear that it is not willing to help.”

Ms Baillie said: “The minister’s complete failure to respond pro-actively to this call for help is deeply disappointing and questions must be asked about why younger people in Scotland who are clinically vulnerable are struggling to get vaccinated.”

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