Vaccinations for children aged five to 11 who are most at risk of Covid-19 have begun in parts of England.

Around 500,000 children in the age bracket, who are either most at risk of Covid-19 or live with someone vulnerable, are now able to get vaccinated.

Eligible children include those with diabetes, immunosuppression, learning disabilities and other conditions as outlined by the UK Health Security Agency.

But what do parents need to know about the vaccination programme?

Bracknell News: Photo via PA shows a child receiving a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.Photo via PA shows a child receiving a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

How to book Covid vaccination appointments for children aged 5-11?

Parents and guardians should wait for the NHS to contact them for when it is their child’s turn to get the vaccine.

There will be hundreds of appointments every day with programmes varying across different clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

What vaccine do children get and is it a smaller dose?

All eligible children will be offered two 10 microgram doses of the Pfizer vaccine eight weeks apart – a third of the amount used for adult vaccinations.

Pfizer tested the smaller dose with primary school-age children. Even with less micrograms in a dose, children who are five to 11 years old developed antibody levels as strong as teenagers and young adults getting the regular-strength vaccines, Pfizer said in September.

Why do children need the vaccine? 

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and deputy lead for the NHS vaccination programme, said: “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 NHS is now vaccinating the most at risk five to 11-year-olds, ensuring they get their vital dose of protection.

“Thousands of young people are still getting protected every day with millions vaccinated so far, and we are asking parents not to delay coming forward – as soon as the NHS contacts you, please come forward so the NHS can protect their youngest against the virus.”

Although children mostly only get mild symptoms, some public health experts believe immunising them should be a priority to reduce the virus’ spread, which could theoretically lead to the emergence of a dangerous new variant.

Researchers disagree on how much children have influenced the course of the pandemic. Early research suggested they did not contribute much to viral spread, but some experts say children played a significant role this year spreading variants such as Alpha and Delta.

Bracknell News: Photo via PA explains how the Pfizer vaccine works.Photo via PA explains how the Pfizer vaccine works.

Have children shown any side effects from the Covid vaccine?

Studies on Pfizer’s vaccine in children have not been big enough to detect any rare side effects from the second dose, like the chest and heart inflammation seen in mostly male older teenagers and young adults.

Flu jabs for children

The NHS is also reminding parents and guardians that their children can continue to get protection from the flu jab with millions of reminder texts, letters and emails.

More children than ever are eligible for a free flu vaccine this winter, including all two and three-year-olds and all pupils from reception age to school leavers.

Regular seasonal flu jabs also provide children with better protection against future flu pandemics, a study suggests.

Researchers found that children who receive years of the vaccines develop antibodies that give broader protection against new strains.

The researchers spent three years studying immune responses in children between the ages of six months and 17 years.

They found that as the children grew older they became less capable of producing broadly protective antibodies, because of their repeated exposure to flu, through infection or vaccination.

Although measures employed during Covid-19, such as social distancing and wearing face coverings, have reduced flu rates, Dr Miller warns flu could return and possibly in more severe forms.