Scientists advising the Government on vaccines are likely to set out a “range of options” on the potential immunisation of children against coronavirus, an expert has said.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said deciding whether to vaccinate children is a “complicated” issue.
He told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: “Clearly, with children, there are a range of different options that involve whether we select certain children to be immunised on the basis of risk – we do know that the majority of children do not have huge risk of complications – whether we vaccinate for educational purposes, whether we vaccinate to protect others in the population, these are the ethical issues, there are a lot of issues to think about.
“It’s a complicated position to decide on the immunisation of children, of course; then there’s the wider global ethical argument about the use of vaccine in children when there are other people in the world that are at risk of not being vaccinated.
“So we need to think about all these issues; we probably will give the Government a range of options.
“But on the whole they’ve been very good at listening to our advice, and our strategy on JCVI to date has been so good and I’m very thankful that the Government have listened to it.”
He added: “It’s complicated, but we will think through these issues deeply and give some really good advice.”
Prof Harnden said vaccines do help to tackle Covid-19 transmission but “only to a certain extent” and therefore “I don’t think we will be able to vaccinate children to prevent huge amounts of transmission within the community”.
His comments came after a JCVI source told the Daily Telegraph it is expected to set out “options and consequences” of vaccinating children rather than offering a firm recommendation for ministers to follow.
The source said: “It’s likely that the JCVI will come up with a menu of options saying what the consequences of each of them would be, rather than making an actual recommendation.”
It follows the European Medicines Agency recommending the use of the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech be extended to children aged 12 to 15.
Klaus Okkenhaug, professor of immunology in the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge, said the Pfizer vaccine could be a potential candidate to use on children due to its safety record.
Appearing on Times Radio, he conceded it was a “fair point” when it was put to him that one or two “bad cases” of vaccine side-effects could “spook” a large number of people.
Prof Okkenhaug said: “I think the lower in age we go, the lower the risk from the virus is, then the more risk-averse we become with relation to the vaccine.”
He highlighted that, with data from the tens of millions of people who have been vaccinated, “if you go for children, you would want to go for the safest vaccine”.
“And I think probably an argument could be that for children you go for the Pfizer, if that pans out, as it looks to be, (to) have an even better safety record.”
Prof Okkenhaug said the decision on whether to give children jabs is a “difficult question” which requires balancing wider benefits against the direct ones for children.
“I think for a whole population it would of course help for children to be vaccinated because it also reduces their opportunities to transmit this virus to their teachers,” he said.
Prof Okkenhaug added that when considering the “direct benefits to the children” it is “a little bit of a fine balance because they are so unlikely to be affected by the virus”.
“But I think, given the phenomenal safety records of some of the vaccines out there, there’s a good argument for going ahead at least with older children, say 12 and above.”
Prof Okkenhaug said the idea of using a nasal spray to administer the Covid vaccine to children was “really interesting”, with the approach used before for flu vaccines, but there was a current lack of data.