Covid vaccine for vulnerable Scots children and young people

Those aged 12 and over with certain health conditions can now get the COVID-19 vaccine

Young Scots with certain medical conditions are to be offered a Covid-19 vaccine. 

Around 4,000 children and young people between the ages of 12 and 17 will be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech jab before most schools return on 16 August. This move is in line with the latest advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The young people being offered the jab are those affected by severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s syndrome, underlying conditions resulting in immunosuppression, and those who have had a diagnosis of a learning or intellectual disability.

Children and young people between the ages of 12 and 17 who are household contacts of adults or children who are immunosuppressed are also to be invited for vaccination, in an effort to provide indirect protection for that vulnerable member of their household. 

The JCVI recommends that young people aged 16 and 17 who are at higher risk of serious illness from Covid-19 be vaccinated. While most of this group have previously been invited for jabs during an earlier part of the vaccination programme, those who are now 16 who were not vaccinated as part of that earlier offer can now be immunised. 

NHS Scotland is aiming to vaccinate these children and young people during August 2021 alongside those younger household contacts of people with immunosuppression. 

Children and young people with specific conditions and their parents or carers will be contacted directly by their local health boards via letter, phone call or by their regular healthcare professional. The household contacts of the wider group of people with immunosuppression will be contacted by a letter from the National Vaccination Programme.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “These children and young people will be able to get the vaccine in the most appropriate setting for their situation. This may be in their own home or a care setting, or at a clinic, depending on their care or health needs.”

Who does this apply to?

Vaccinations will now be offered to:

  • 12 to 15-year-olds with severe neuro-disabilities
  • 12 to 15-year-olds with Down’s syndrome
  • 12 to 15-year-olds with underlying conditions resulting in immunosuppression
  • 12 to 15-year-olds with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD)
  • 12 to 15-year-olds with severe learning disabilities
  • 12 to 17-year-olds who have a diagnosed learning/intellectual disability (mild or moderate)
  • 16-year-olds who have any of these above conditions or  underlying conditions that place them at higher risk of serious Covid-19 (who were not 16 at the time of the previous invite for all those aged 16 and 17 in March 2021)
  • Young people aged 12 and older who live in the same household of persons (adults or children) who are immunosuppressed. 

More information

  • Scotland does not have a national Learning Disability Register but everyone with a diagnosed learning or intellectual disability will be invited for vaccination. This does not include people with learning difficulties such as dyslexia or ADHD.
  • The JCVI advice can be accessed on
  • For further info, visit NHS Inform Scotland
  • Updates will also be posted by Parents Club Scotland

Frequently asked questions

What are ‘severe neuro-disabilities’ and what conditions are included?

Neuro-disability is an umbrella term for conditions associated with impairment involving the nervous system. This includes:

  • All forms of Paralysis, hemiplegias, paraplegias etc.
  • Neurological Cancers
  • Neurological infections (including encephalitis, polio)
  • Congenital disorders likely to affect nervous system
  • Neuro-degenerative conditions
  • Ataxias
  • Motor Neurone Disease
  • Demyelinating diseases including MS
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • SupraNuclear Palsy
  • Neuropathies
  • Myaesthenia disorders
  • Myotonic Disorders
  • Musculodystrophies
  • Vascular disorders – Intracranial haemorrhages, aneurysms, Strokes, Thrombosis, Arteriris, Dissections
  • Spina Bifida, Hydrocephalus
  • Neuro Developmental Disorders
  • Congenital disorders
  • Chromosomal Abnormalities (although Downs syndrome a separate JCVI group for this vaccination group)

Epilepsy on its own is not included in this list although some children with epilepsy will be included if they have an additional neurological condition coded. 

Why does having a severe neuro-disability increase risk?

Covid-19 is a respiratory virus affecting the lung – if anyone with a neuro-disability condition that impairs lung function contracts the virus it could cause severe complications if they develop.

My child has a neurology condition (eg epilepsy) – why are they not included in this group?

Epilepsy on its own is not a higher risk of Covid-19. Most people with well-controlled epilepsy without any other neurological condition are not currently included in this category because their immune and lung function should be normal like anyone else without epilepsy.

What is ‘immunosuppression’ and what types of conditions or medications make a young person immune-suppressed?

Immunosuppression is the state in which your immune system is not functioning as well as it should. For the JCVI definition, please see the Green Book (Pg 13)

Why does being immunosuppressed increase risk in COVID-19?

Data has shown this condition to be particularly associated with more severe outcomes from contracting Covid-19 infection.

The JCVI also recommends that children and young people aged 12-17 who live with an immunosuppressed person should be offered the vaccine. This is to indirectly protect their immunosuppressed household contacts, who are at higher risk of serious disease from COVID-19 and may not generate a full immune response to vaccination.

My child has a condition and has lower immunity, why are they not included in this group?

NHS Scotland used the GP records of all people living in Scotland to identify those with immunocompromised (lower immunity) conditions to identify those people that would benefit from the vaccine. If you feel your child should be included and are not on the invite, then you need to contact your own GP to update the record and your GP can then refer your child to the local vaccination service.

What is the definition of learning or intellectual disabilities?

Learning or intellectual disability is an umbrella term covering many different conditions. They are often categorised as mild, moderate, severe or profound and are clinically diagnosed.

It is important to be really clear about definitions. Learning/Intellectual disabilities are different from learning difficulties such as dyslexia or ADHD. Learning difficulties are conditions which cause problems with certain abilities used for learning, such as reading and writing.

Why does having a learning or intellectual disability increase risk in Covid-19?

Data has shown these conditions are particularly associated with more severe outcomes from contracting Covid-19 infection.

My child has a learning difficulty/additional support and/or educational needs (eg Dyslexia or ADHD), why are they not included in this group?

These conditions are not included in what would be diagnosed clinically as learning/intellectual disabilities (as per the definition above). JCVI advice is based on the currently available clinical data and having considered the risks and benefits of the vaccine in younger members of our society. Until more data becomes available, the JCVI does not currently advise routine universal vaccination of children and young people under 18 years of age. 

As a parent, I am anxious about giving the vaccine to my child. What are the risks?

NHS Scotland will only use a vaccine if it meets the required standards of safety and effectiveness. All medicines, including vaccines, are tested for safety and effectiveness before they’re allowed to be used. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has to assess all the data and also ensure a vaccine works and that all the necessary trials and checks have been completed.

The MHRA will only approve a vaccine for supply in the UK if the expected standards of safety, quality and efficacy are met. The safety and effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines continue to be checked while in use.

The JCVI recommends the Pfizer vaccination for children 12 years and older as it has been authorised for use in persons aged 12 and over in the UK. This follows evidence from a clinical trial where around 1,000 individuals aged 12 to 15 years received two doses of the vaccine. There is good evidence that the vaccine is relatively reactogenic in this age group, with short-lived side effects including fever being common.