The Daily Telegraph

Editorial Comment:


The decision to extend the Covid vaccinatio­n programme to children aged between 12 and 15 has been on the cards ever since ministers sought a rethink of scientific advice that such a move should not be approved. Just a fortnight ago, the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisati­on (JCVI) declined to recommend giving the jab to everyone in an age group almost untouched by the worst ravages of the virus. Vaccinatin­g children to benefit adults was always going to be ethically problemati­c.

The JCVI concluded that though the health benefits from vaccinatio­n were marginally greater than the potential known harms (to the 12-15 age group), they were too small to support extending the programme. It left open the question of whether there were wider societal benefits from doing so, declaring this to be beyond the committee’s remit. To that end, the Government then asked the UK’S four chief medical officers to find a justificat­ion for overruling the JCVI.

Prof Chris Whitty, England’s CMO, said the rationale was the impact of the pandemic on education and the implied threat that children could miss yet more schooling if an accelerati­on of cases over the winter prompts renewed lockdown measures. Further disruption poses a risk to their mental health and therefore justifies inoculatio­n.

But this is a circular argument. To state that children must be vaccinated because their schools will be closed if they aren’t ignores the fact that it is in the Government’s hands to ensure they stay open. It is, in other words, perfectly possible to follow the JCVI recommenda­tion without further underminin­g the education of our children.

However, faced with a further threat to their schooling, most parents will want their young teenagers to receive the vaccine. It has been shown to have very high levels of safety, though there are risks of side effects, albeit rare, especially in healthy boys. A recent analysis of medical data suggests they are four to six times more likely to be diagnosed with vaccine-related myocarditi­s than to end up in hospital with Covid.

Throughout the pandemic the Government has been at pains to insist it has “followed the science” and there were no ministers at the news conference to announce this decision. Yet it is hard not to conclude that the reasoning behind this move is as much societal and political as it is clinical.

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