The Daily Telegraph
Vaccinating children is a decision for families, not the Government
Has Chris Whitty ever met a 12-year-old child? Somehow, I doubt it. At a Downing Street briefing, where he explained why he would be approving Covid vaccinations for 12- to 15-year-olds against the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (while simultaneously managing to claim the JCVI agreed with him), the chief medical officer made an audacious assertion. Children, said he with that eerie, extra-terrestrial smile of his, “are capable of understanding” complex decisions about their health.
If Prof Whitty had spent just one breakfast with a 12-year-old, he would know they were not capable of understanding simple decisions regarding the whereabouts of their own trainers, let alone the safety data of a novel MRNA vaccine.
Incredibly, the CMO went on to say that a pre-teen would be allowed to overrule parents who don’t want them to be jabbed, if they pass something called “a competence assessment”. When he said this, he looked about as comfortable as a man who has recently had a haemorrhoidectomy and is balancing his buttocks with great care on an inflatable gel cushion. He could hardly meet the camera’s gaze.
Could this be the same Prof Whitty who, back at the start of the pandemic, admitted that the decision on whether to vaccinate became a lot more problematic as you went down the age groups, because children didn’t really suffer from Covid? Must have been some other fellow. This one gave no medical evidence to support his hugely controversial decision, preferring to wiffle and waffle while claiming that jabbing youngsters (who have no need of vaccination) would “avoid disruption to education”.
Heaven knows, there have been some Kafkaesque moments in the past 18 months, but this one took the dark chocolate Hobnob.
“Let’s increase anxiety in children so we can reduce anxiety in children!” That is the gist of what the CMO was saying, though I accept he has argued the opposite.
A government and medical establishment that has repeatedly closed schools, regardless of well-grounded fears about damage to mental health, was now seriously suggesting that children must be vaccinated to keep schools open and avoid damage to their… oh, mental health!
At the risk of being disobliging, it’s worth pointing out that closing schools was a political decision taken in the UK, but not elsewhere. British children missed more education than kids in any other European nation except Italy. Not because of the threat to them from the virus, in my view, but because our spineless Education Secretary prostrated himself before militant trade unions who regard children as a nuisance to be navigated between pay packets.
Just look at that Oxford University study which found that 98.4 per cent of students who were sent home for 10 days under the ludicrous bubble system never went on to develop Covid. It was bubbles and mass testing of children which caused the disruption in education, not the virus.
So, it is not just disingenuous of Prof Whitty to claim kids must be vaccinated for the sake of their mental health; it is downright deceitful.
But what else could he do? The vaccinators for 12- to 15-year-olds were hired months ago, the Department of Health was drumming its fingers, and ministers were going public with their “frustration”. Some argument needed to be cobbled together that would allow Prof Whitty to become the first chief medical officer in history to go against the advice of leading virologists on the JCVI.
The Any Old Excuse he eventually came up with was eagerly seized upon by Sajid Javid. “I have accepted the unanimous recommendations from the UK chief medical officers to offer vaccination to those aged 12 to 15,” he said. “This will protect young people from catching Covid-19, reduce transmission in schools and help keep pupils in the classroom.” No, it won’t, Secretary of State. The vaccinated are still able to be infected with the delta variant – have they really not explained that to you? Your own Green Book on Vaccination states: “Fewer than 5 per cent of Covid-19 cases are among children, and in general they appear to exhibit mild disease”; and: “They are also unlikely to be key drivers of transmission at a population level.” Forget Covid, what children need protection from is the Government.
It is hard to overstate what a grave and potentially divisive moment this is in the public health of the nation. The law on consent may not be new, but a Conservative Government has seen fit to undermine parental authority on a matter which properly belongs to the family, not the state. (Imagine the mega-strops over the Shreddies!) And it is doing so in the face of objections from some of its own experts. Although it was under huge pressure to wave through vaccination for the younger cohort, the JCVI refused, recommending that children aged between 12 and 15 should “only get a jab if they are clinically vulnerable, or live with someone who is”. In truth, the only thing you can say with certainty about vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds is we just don’t know. Prof Whitty may say blithely that adverse effects from myocarditis are soon resolved – but does he know that for sure?
You’d think a bit of caution was in order, wouldn’t you? “Fingers crossed and hope for the best” is not a strategy any decent country could endorse for its children, which means the United Kingdom has just sacrificed decency for expediency.
I laughed when I heard Nadhim Zahawi, the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, tell the Today programme yesterday that children who wanted the vaccine against their parents’ wishes would have their capacity to consent assessed by skilled “clinicians”. That’s not what my senior source in the vaccination programme says. I’m afraid the chances are your child’s skilled “clinician” will be Hannah, laid-off cabin crew for easyjet, who has only recently been hired as a vaccinator. What Hannah knows about Gillick competence could be written on an airline serviette.
Prof Whitty stresses that vaccination is voluntary (his excuse if things go wrong), warning people not to “stigmatise” children who decide not to get jabbed. Once again, the CMO reveals an astonishing naivety about teenagers. NSPCC guidance on Gillick competence says: “Remember that consent is not valid if a young person is being pressured or influenced by someone else.”
Seriously? As any parent of teenagers would tell you, there is not a waking moment when they are not being influenced by someone else. With scores of kids queuing up in a school hall, and only a thin curtain for privacy, what chance is there of having a meaningful discussion about informed consent or potential side-effects?
I know some headteachers who are anxious about allowing children to provide their own consent on school premises. I know parents who are desperate to keep their little darling away from a vaccine with no long-term safety data. But, honestly, what hope have they got against the juggernaut of peer pressure?
Stop and think for a minute. Until today, schools have had to ask parental permission for a child to have a photograph taken or for a plaster to be applied to their cut knee. In a reckless rush to boost vaccination numbers, what we are witnessing is an unethical and unprecedented land grab by the state of the hearts and minds of our youth.
Bubbles and mass testing of children disrupted education – not the virus