Parents are considering taking their children abroad to get vaccinated against Covid-19 as they become increasingly frustrated by the pace of the vaccine roll-out while the spread of Omicron surges.
Last week the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended that clinically vulnerable children aged five to 11 should be offered a Covid vaccine.
The JCVI also advised that the jab should be offered to children within this cohort who live with anyone who is immunosuppressed. A blanket roll-out of the jab to this age group is currently on hold.
For some parents, the delay in approval of the jab for children aged under 11 has driven them to keep their children off school over fears they may catch the virus. Others are considering travelling abroad to get their children vaccinated.
Chris and Glad Salt, from Essex, are among the parents worried about the risk Covid poses to their son, aged five, and daughter, aged seven.
Neither of their children would be eligible for a Covid jab under the current JCVI recommendation as they are not clinically high risk.
“It makes me really frustrated, because I see what’s going on globally. You know, in America they’ve got a massive rollout, there’s no red flags,” Mr Salt told i.
He added: “I want my kids to have some protection. The way I see it is that there is a risk of long Covid and other things, children have died, so although it might be a low risk, if you’re looking top down from the helicopter view, that’s a big impact on an individual family, isn’t it?”
Mrs Salt said: “We are very worried with the Omicron variant. We would like to see the vaccine rollout for the five to 11 age range as soon as possible.”
She added: “We just don’t know whether they are going to catch it and we can’t really control this.”
Their children have dual French and British citizenship and the couple have looked into travelling to France to get the jab.
Mr Salt said: “Scientists and NHS workers, they’re concerned and they’re talking about going overseas to get their kids vaccinated, and it’s something I’m looking at as well.
“My kids have got dual citizenship, so the obvious choice would be France. Although I think the details of the roll-out there are you’ve got to be a resident, which we’re not, we live in the UK. If that changes, obviously that’s an option.”
France started vaccinating children aged five and up last Wednesday.
Which countries are vaccinating children aged 5-11 against Covid-19?
- France, Austria, Germany, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Belgium are all among the European countries where children aged five and up can get a Covid jab.
- The US and Canada are also offering reduced doses to this age group.
- Israel began its vaccine rollout for five to 11 year olds in November.
Mr Salt said he knew of children travelling to the US for the Covid vaccine. Others parents he had spoken to had travelled to Austria and Italy to vaccinate their kids, he said.
The concerns are being raised against a backdrop of high infection rates among young children.
A recent study found that children aged five to 11 are three times more likely to have Covid-19 than the general population. But generally children experience mild disease.
Last Wednesday, Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair, Covid-19 immunisation at the JCVI, said: “The majority of children aged 5 to 11 are at very low risk of serious illness due to Covid-19. However, some 5 to 11 year olds have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk, and we advise these children to be vaccinated in the first instance.”
Mr and Mrs Salt have not made the decision to remove their children from school but it was something they considered ahead of the Christmas break.
“I was really 50/50 about whether to keep them in that last week of school,” Mr Salt said.
He questioned why the decision had been made to remove mitigations such as school bubbles.
He said the prospect of another lockdown would take the pressure off a little bit but he would worry as soon as schools reopened.
“As soon as they’re going back, I’m going to be nervous again,” he said.
“The vaccine is a really good protection against it [the virus] and if it’s going be a while for our kids to get it, you know, I’m going to look at other options as well.”
i has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.