KIDS WILL GET JAB – BUT JUST ONE
As Whitty gives go-ahead, 12 to 15-year-olds given final say on taking vaccine
ALL children aged 12 to 15 will be offered a Covid jab from as early as next week in a drive to protect their health and education.
Ministers last night backed the move after the UK’s four chief medical officers (CMOs) said the three million youngsters in this age group could benefit and the risks were small.
The experts believe it will reduce their chances of catching and spreading the virus, support their physical and mental health and help prevent school outbreaks.
Vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds could prevent around 30,000 infections in this age group in England between now and March and save 110,000 school days that would otherwise be missed, according to modelling considered by the medical officers.
Getting vaccinated could also lower the odds of children passing on Covid to parents and grandparents, although the experts only considered the benefits to the youngsters themselves.
Parental consent will be sought but will not be needed if the healthcare worker administering the jab considers the child is competent to make a decision. Pupils will initially be offered one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and will not get a second shot this year.
The medical officers say sideeffects appear more likely with the second dose and they want more time to consider data from countries where children are receiving two. But the delays mean children will not be fully protected this winter, raising fears it could fuel another wave of infection.
Cases have already risen in Scotland, where pupils have been back in school for several weeks.
The decision sparked anger among some parents, who want the final say over vaccinations.
Mother-of-three Amanda Duncan, from Birkenhead, Merseyside, said: ‘My kids can’t even choose what they want for tea, never mind anything else. Over my dead body will my boys get it.’
Liz Cole, of children’s rights campaign group UsforThem, demanded a ‘cast-iron guarantee’ that parents would have the final say.
‘The CMO was very clear in his letter that there should be no stigmatisation of children or parents regarding their choice to take up or not take up this offer,’ she said.
‘There can be no scintilla of pressure applied to children to take up a vaccine.’
Professor Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading who is in favour of vaccinating children, warned that giving youngsters the final say could lead to pupils being bullied into the jab.
He said: ‘It will cause rows… You may end up in a situation where a minority – it will probably be the unvaccinated – get bullied and excluded by other children.’
Under-16s are not automatically presumed to be legally competent to make decisions about their healthcare and, therefore, whether they should get the Covid vaccine.
But the courts have previously said under-16s are competent to give consent to an intervention if they have ‘sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand fully what is proposed’ – what is known as the ‘Gillick test’.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said last night: ‘I have accepted the recommendation from the CMOs to expand vaccination to those aged 12 to 15, protecting young people from catching Covid-19, reducing transmission in schools and keeping pupils in the classroom.’
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told MPs: ‘We will now move with the same sense of urgency we’ve had at every point in our vaccination programme.’
The NHS is finalising its plans to roll out the vaccination in schools from next week.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided earlier this month not to recommend mass vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds. At the time its members said Covid presents a very low risk for healthy children and vaccination would only offer a marginal benefit.
But they suggested the wider issues, such as education, should be taken into consideration and examined by the CMOs.
The CMOs say their ruling takes into account the ‘extremely powerful’ evidence on the impact of the
pandemic on children’s education as well as the risks to their mental health from missing school.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told a Downing Street press conference it had been a ‘difficult decision’ but CMOs would not be recommending the jabs ‘unless we felt benefit exceeded risk’. He added there were ‘no plans at the moment to look at vaccinating under-12s.
■ The Government has cancelled an agreement to buy at least 100million doses of Covid-19 vaccine from the French firm Valneva.
Officials claimed the company breached contract obligations but Valneva said it ‘strenuously denies this’.