Children as young as six will be given the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as part of a new clinical trial to test its efficacy in youngsters.
Researchers will use 300 volunteers to assess whether the coronavirus vaccine will produce a strong immune response in children aged between six and 17.
The trial will begin this month at Oxford University and its partner sites in London, Southampton and Bristol.
The Oxford jab is one of three to have been approved for use in adults in the UK, along with those from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
Professor Andrew Pollard, chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said: “While most children are relatively unaffected by coronavirus and are unlikely to become unwell with the infection, it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children may benefit from vaccination.
“These new trials will extend our understanding of control of SARS-CoV2 to younger age groups.”
Up to 240 children will receive the vaccine and the others will get a control meningitis jab.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has previously said “several” trials are under way to develop vaccines that are safe and effective in children.
He added it was “perfectly possible that we will have some licensed children’s vaccines for COVID-19 by the end of the year”.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says there is evidence COVID-19 can cause death and severe illness in children, but that this is rare.
It said: “In children, the evidence is now clear that COVID-19 is associated with a considerably lower burden of morbidity and mortality compared to that seen in the elderly.
“There is also some evidence that children may be less likely to acquire the infection. The role of children in transmission, once they have acquired the infection, is unclear, although there is no clear evidence that they are any more infectious than adults.”
The trial is the first to assess the Oxford vaccine’s efficacy in children aged six to 17.
Other trials had begun but they are measuring efficacy in those aged 16 and 17, the University of Oxford said.
Rinn Song, paediatrician and clinician-scientist at the Oxford Vaccine Group, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound negative impact on the education, social development and emotional well-being of children and adolescents, beyond illness and rare severe disease presentations.
“It is therefore important to collect data on the safety and the immune response to our coronavirus vaccine in these age groups, so that they could potentially benefit from inclusion in vaccination programs in the near future.”
More than 14 million people have now had their first COVID-19 vaccine, meaning the government is within touching distance of hitting its target of 15 million by Monday.
The government and the NHS have now launched a new vaccine uptake plan, urging anyone eligible for the jab who has not yet had one to come forward.
Over-70s, care home residents and staff, health and care workers and clinically extremely vulnerable patients have now all been given the opportunity to get a vaccine.