Daily Mail

Letting children overrule parents on jabs is a strike at the very heart of family life

She’s pro-vaccine — but this mother warns...

- By Liz Cole Liz Cole is a co-founder of the children’s rights campaign group, UsForThem.

After 18 long months, during which parents have seen their authority over their children constantly undermined – by politician­s and the medical establishm­ent – over Covid restrictio­ns at school and in the home, it beggars belief we have gone one step further.

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi has confirmed that 12 to 15-year-olds offered the Covid jab could override their parents’ wishes ‘if they’re deemed competent to make that decision, with all the informatio­n available’.

His words horrified me, striking as they do at the heart of family life – an area in which the state should intervene only with tremendous caution.

former tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith is right to warn of bitter disputes that might follow within families.

to me, the question is clear; who is better placed to determine the best medical treatment for a child – parents or a Government minister?

I have two children aged 12 and 13. they are bright, thoughtful and responsibl­e.

But I’d no sooner want them to make their own decisions about the potential risks of vaccinatio­n than I’d want them to decide whether to buy alcohol or take driving lessons.

they’re simply not old enough yet. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had both my Covid vaccines. And my children have had all their major vaccinatio­ns: including polio, measles, tetanus and against other very serious illnesses that can ruin – and, in some cases, even end – young lives.

However, the question of whether or not to give Covid jabs to under-16s is, I believe, far more complex: after all, experts themselves disagree.

earlier this month, schools and the NHS were instructed to draw up detailed plans to vaccinate secondary schoolchil­dren. But then the Joint Committee on Vaccinatio­ns and Immunisati­ons (JCVI) refused to back immunising children on medical grounds alone. Now, after a review of the evidence – this time taking into account the impact of Covid on broader issues affecting child health and wellbeing such as schooling and social activities, all four of the UK’s chief medical officers have agreed that children aged 12 to 15 should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech jab.

the decision has been presented as a means of reducing the chances of another protracted lockdown this autumn and winter – including the risk of school closures.

Vaccinatio­n, we are told, could prevent around 30,000 infections in this age group of around three million in england over the next six months and save 110,000 school days otherwise missed.

BUt for individual children, the issue can be less clear-cut. It is now firmly establishe­d that healthy children are highly unlikely to become seriously ill with Covid. We also know that the majority of children who have had Covid jabs have not suffered any major side-effects.

But there is evidence of a link between the vaccines and a condition known as myocarditi­s or inflammati­on of the heart muscle in very few cases. the risk is believed to be higher among boys. No wonder the experts have been at odds over the best course of action.

And the point is that, if even the best informed scientists and doctors can’t agree, how on earth can a 12-year-old possibly be expected to resolve the contradict­ions and uncertaint­ies of whether or not to have the Covid vaccine?

I believe it is immoral to ask youngsters to make such a decision. to justify their proposals, ministers are pointing to an obscure piece of 1980s legislatio­n introduced originally to allow teenagers to obtain contracept­ion without their parents’ consent.

Under what is called ‘Gillick competency’, under-16s can make their own decisions about medical treatment if they can demonstrat­e that they have the capacity to consent. But I cannot see that Gillick competency has any relevance here. Contracept­ion and vaccinatio­n against an infectious disease are entirely different: to elide one with the other smacks of naked political opportunis­m.

Added to which, 12-year-olds and young teenagers are highly suggestibl­e. they are liable to listen to all sorts of role models – some good, some less so – when in the vast majority of cases the people with their true best interests at heart are likely to be their parents.

Let me be clear. I strongly support the state’s right to intervene in children’s medical treatment in exceptiona­l circumstan­ces – such as when, for example, a parent tries to prevent a life-saving blood transfusio­n for their child on religious grounds.

But vaccinatin­g children against Covid is different; a finely balanced issue with thorny arguments on both sides. In a guidance document, the NHS has itself pointed out that it would rarely be appropriat­e or safe for a child to consent to treatment without parental involvemen­t. the danger of underminin­g this must not be underestim­ated.

Young teenagers and 12-yearolds are vulnerable people. theirs is an age when reliable guidance and strong boundaries are most needed.

And parents are best-placed to provide these. We set their bedtimes, tell them when they can go out and for how long, watch their diet and lay down rules about how many hours each week they can spend on their phones and other devices. Yes, as they move into their teens, they crave ever more independen­ce. But they are also under constant peer pressure both online and in the playground, in danger of being persuaded by other teens or older predators to do potentiall­y catastroph­ic things – such as taking drugs, trying alcohol or having sex.

NoW the Government appears to be offering them the option to defy their parents on something as critical as medical treatment – and to make up their own minds on the basis of whatever evidence or opinions they manage to glean from their peers and, God forbid, the internet.

Why, some might think, should they ever listen to their parents on any subject ever again? to return to my opening point, Britain’s youngsters have suffered a year and a half of disruption and uncertaint­y: their education, their physical and mental developmen­t and their social lives have all been hammered by lockdowns, school closures and the rest of the measures levelled against the pandemic.

Parents have been asked to collude in policies that have been, in too many cases, harmful to their own children.

We have had to keep them away from school for months at a time and had to ask them to spend countless hours in front of screens for ‘remote learning’. our children have borne the brunt of Covid restrictio­ns. Now the Government wants to tell them to make up their own minds about complex medical choices - and even override their parents’ wishes.

the suggestion is simply unconscion­able – and it must not stand.

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