The Daily Telegraph

Children may require jabs to keep up their schooling, says Whitty

- By Camilla Turner education editor

CHILDREN may need to be vaccinated to ensure their education can continue without disruption, England’s chief medical officer has suggested.

Asked whether the vaccine will be rolled out to children, Prof Chris Whitty said the “wider question” was about whether this would help to limit the disruption the virus is causing to their schooling.

He made the remarks as the head of Britain’s biggest teaching union said children should be fully vaccinated before returning to school in September.

If the Government decides to vaccinate schoolchil­dren, this should happen “as quickly as possible”, according to Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union.

Ministers are awaiting advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccinatio­n and Immunisati­on (JCVI), which insiders expect will recommend the jab for younger teenagers.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the UK regulator, has already approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds.

Last month, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, announced that Britain had bought enough Pfizer vaccines to inoculate all children over the age of 12.

Mr Courtney told The Daily Telegraph: “If JCVI look at the ethical questions and if they think on the ethical balance – and the MHRA say there is a high degree of safety – then in an ideal world we think it would be better if kids were vaccinated and had three weeks’ immunity before they come back to school in September.”

He described the rising number of cases in schools as a “big problem”, add- ing: “That is where our concern is focused. We do think the disruption to education is a significan­t factor.”

He said: “If there is a risk from the vaccine, even if it is an incredibly small risk, an ethical question is raised about whether you give them something with a risk.”

At the Downing Street press conference last night, Prof Whitty said that when it came to vaccinatin­g children, the key considerat­ion would be their safety. “We know that the risks in terms of physical disease to children – other than some children with significan­t pre-existing problems or physical health – are much, much lower than for adults,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to vaccinate unless the vaccine is very safe, and vaccines are now being licensed in some countries and we are accruing safety data on the safety of these vaccines in children.”

He said any decision should be made “with caution”, and added that there were two possible reasons why children may need jabs.

“The first is those groups that are actually at high risk of Covid – and I think JCVI will be bringing forward advice on this – and those children specifical­ly should be vaccinated to reduce the risk of them having severe disease, and in a very small number of cases … mortality,” Prof Whitty said.

“But the wider question is around the effect on children’s education and the multiple disruption­s that might happen and are going to have a very negative impact on their life chances, including the effect it will have on long-term risk of physical and mental ill health.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “No decisions have yet been made on whether people aged 12 to 17 should be routinely offered Covid-19 vaccines.

“We will be guided by our expert advisers and the Government has asked the JCVI for its formal recommenda­tion. We will update in due course.”

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