Community pharmacies will do the majority of vaccinations, as England has opened up bookings for children aged 5-11, NHS England has said.

Up until now, only five-to-11-year-olds with medical conditions that put them at increased risk or who lived with someone immunosuppressed had been eligible in England.

But from yesterday, ‘almost five million’ children aged 5-11 have become eligible for two doses of the Covid vaccine, NHS England said.

NHS England had previously said that primary care networks (PCNs) would not be expected to lead on the vaccine rollout for five-to-11-year-olds, due to ongoing workforce pressures.

But it today said that:

  • The ‘majority’ of vaccines for the cohort will take place at GP-led local vaccination centres or community pharmacies ‘outside of school hours’ (although some schools have already broken up for Easter).
  • ‘Hundreds’ of sites will be providing the jabs from today with more launching ‘throughout the week’.
  • The national booking service opened for appointments for the cohort on Saturday and 37,000 have already booked a slot, while walk-ins are also available.
  • NHS England will be sending invitations to parents and guardians of eligible children over the next few weeks while ‘some people will be invited by their GP teams’.

NHS England primary care medical director and deputy lead for the NHS Covid vaccination programme Dr Nikki Kanani said: ‘NHS staff continue to work hard across the country to deliver the Covid vaccine to all eligible groups and this group of five-to-11s are the latest to start receiving theirs, helping to protect against potential future waves of Covid.

‘Local vaccine sites are making it as easy as possible for families, and a less daunting experience for youngsters by offering things like games and therapy dogs and it’s great to see lots of five-to-11s already booked in.’

Vaccination sites are ‘allowing for longer appointment times so that families can discuss their decisions and ensure visits with children are as stress-free as possible’, NHS England added.

In February, the Government announced that all children aged 5-11 would become eligible for ‘non-urgent’ Covid vaccination in England, Scotland and Wales, following new advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The Northern Irish Government also announced it would extend the offer of the jab to children who were not in at-risk groups.

The Covid jab rollout to all 5-11s began in Northern IrelandWales and Scotland last month.

Children aged 5-11 who are in a clinical risk group or a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed have been eligible for Covid vaccination since a JCVI recommendation was accepted across the UK at the end of December, with GPs starting to deliver jabs in late January.

The age group is being offered two 10-microgram doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid jab at least 12 weeks apart – or eight weeks apart for those in at-risk groups or living with someone who is immunosuppressed – and each dose at least four weeks after any Covid infection.

This comes as The Pharmacist reported that the majority of GPs believe they should not be the ‘main providers’ of Covid vaccinations.