The Daily Telegraph
Families are unlikely to be reassured by vague justifications for the jab
As recommendations go, it was lukewarm, to say the least. Yesterday Prof Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, told the nation that “on balance” children aged 12 to 15 should be vaccinated, before providing only vague reasons to back up the decision.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has already ruled that the benefits are so marginal for schoolchildren that the jabs are not worth the risk. But after 10 days of mulling over the wider advantages to education and mental health, the chief medical officers of the four nations decided to approve a rollout.
“What we’re not trying to do is say to children, you must, must, must, must must,” said Prof Whitty.
“What we’re saying is we think on balance the benefits both at an individual level, and in terms of wider indirect benefits to education and through that to public health are in favour.”
Undoubtedly children have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic for their level of risk, which is very, very small.
A study by University College London (UCL) published in July found that just 25 under-18s died in the first 12 months of the pandemic, yet their worlds have been turned upside down by lockdowns, school closures and the bubble system which saw hundreds of thousands of children forced to self-isolate at home.
At the end of July, a study by Oxford University found that 98.4 per cent of children who were sent home for 10 days under the bubble system never went on to develop Covid.
On a longer-term level, studies have shown that education is one of the strongest determinants of health and longevity and there is strong evidence that school closures increase isolation, reduce physical activity, and cut off children from peers and social support.
A study by UCL of 20 countries which had experienced school closures found that between 18 and 60 per cent of youngsters scored above risk thresholds for distress, particularly anxiety and depressive symptoms.
But the problem with yesterday’s advice is that it comes after the Government already has made a commitment to get rid of bubbles and lockdowns and keep children in school as much as possible, hugely cutting down on disruption to education.
There also appears to be little science backing up claims that it will limit spread in schools.
The CMOS are estimating that one jab will reduce the chance of a child catching coronavirus by 50 to 55 per cent, but that is based on data in adults so it is unknown if it will translate to youngsters.
And given that children are largely asymptomatic, how much that will affect transmission in classrooms is unknown. There is compelling evidence that outbreaks in schools are largely driven by teachers, not pupils.
When asked whether he would definitely recommend it, Prof Whitty said: “Our view is this is over the line otherwise we wouldn’t be making this recommendation.” But he admitted: “The size of the effect is inevitably smaller than for people in 40s, 50, 60s but children do still have problems with Covid.”
Earlier, in a background press briefing a source close to the Government summed up the confusion.
“We think it is highly improbable that vaccination alone will prevent disruption to education, and we think it highly improbable that vaccination will not have a positive effect in reducing the amount of disruption.”
Critics of the way that the Government has handled the announcement point out that if the JCVI did not feel they could safely recommend it, how can parents and children be expected to know what is best? Only time will tell if the Government has done enough to reassure families.