Vulnerable children between the ages of 12 and 15 will be offered a Covid vaccine, the government has confirmed.
It will also be offered to 17-year-olds who are within three months of their 18th birthday.
But ministers have stopped short of opening up vaccinations to all children, citing advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said he has asked the NHS to prepare to vaccinate the newly eligible groups eligible “as soon as possible”.
Vaccinations will be offered to children aged 12 to 15 with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities.
The JCVI has also recommended that children and young people aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person be offered the vaccine, to indirectly protect their immunosuppressed household contacts.
Under existing advice, people aged 16 to 17 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious Covid should have already been offered a jab.
Javid said: “Today’s advice does not recommend vaccinating under-18s without underlying health conditions at this point in time.
“But the JCVI will continue to review new data, and consider whether to recommend vaccinating under-18s without underlying health conditions at a future date.”
The medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has already approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use among children aged 12 and over in the UK.
Professor Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the JCVI, said the “primary aim” of the vaccination programme had always been to prevent hospitalisations and deaths.
“Based on the fact that previously well children, if they do get Covid-19, are likely to have a very mild form of the disease, the health benefits of vaccinating them are small,” he said.
“The benefits of reducing transmission to the wider population from children are also highly uncertain, especially as vaccine uptake is very high in older people who are at highest risk from serious Covid-19 infection.
“We will keep this advice under review as more safety and effectiveness information becomes available.”