Should younger teenagers get a Covid-19 vaccine?

·4-min read

Matt Hancock has said there are “plenty of good reasons” for vaccinating children against coronavirus.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the range of opinions on the matter.

– What is the latest situation with vaccinating children in the UK?

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The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in children aged 12-15, on Friday.

The regulator said it is safe and effective in this age group and the benefits outweigh the risks.

The vaccine had already been approved for use in people aged 16 and over.

– So can children under 16 get the jab?

Not yet. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will now advise on whether children should get the jab.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the JCVI, said the body will probably present a range of options to the Government.

– Why aren’t we just going ahead and vaccinating children if the jab has been approved?

Children rarely develop severe forms of Covid-19 (Ben Birchall/PA)
Children rarely develop severe forms of Covid-19 (Ben Birchall/PA)

There are “ethical dilemmas” when it comes to vaccinating children, Prof Harnden said.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Saturday he stressed that we need to be “absolutely sure that the benefits to them (children) and potentially to society far outweigh any risks”.

– But surely jabbing children will help protect them from Covid-19?

It is “very rare” that young people are affected “very negatively” by coronavirus infection, Mr Hancock has acknowledged.

It is a “very small minority” of children who are badly affected by the virus, Prof Harnden said, adding that most of the benefit of jabs for children would be felt by adults in terms of stopping the spread of the virus.

He said: “I think the vast majority of benefit won’t be to children, it will be an indirect benefit to adults in terms of preventing transmission and protecting adults who haven’t been immunised, for whatever reason haven’t responded to the vaccine and therefore that presents quite a lot of ethical dilemmas as to whether you should vaccinate children to protect adults.”

– Didn’t Matt Hancock say there are “plenty of good reasons” to jab children?

He did. The Health Secretary said two reasons to go ahead with vaccines for those aged 12-15 could be preventing long Covid in children and putting a stop to school disruptions.

Mr Hancock told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: “We know that the vaccine both protects you and helps you stop transmitting, and I want to protect education as much as anybody does… and so making sure that we don’t have those whole bubbles having to go home, especially as we saw over the autumn for instance, that has upsides for education.”

– Are there any side-effects?

The most common side-effects in children aged 12 to 15 are similar to those in people aged 16 and over.

They include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle and joint pain, chills and fever.

These effects are usually mild or moderate and improve within a few days.

Recipients can report any side-effects they experience via the MHRA’s existing Yellow Card scheme found on its website.

– What are the scientists saying?

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he was “not sure” it was the right time to be giving shots to children when vaccines were needed in developing countries to guard against deaths.

He told BBC Breakfast on Sunday: “There’s a really interesting moral and ethical balance here between doing most for most people on a global benefit and doing most for society, the wellbeing, in our country.”

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

These comments have been echoed by Prof Harnden who said there is an “ethical issue of whether you vaccinate children in this country or whether you donate that vaccine internationally to low and middle-income countries where they still have an at-risk adult population that haven’t been vaccinated”.

Last month the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said it is “morally wrong” to offer Covid-19 jabs to children in wealthy countries when high-risk groups in poorer nations remain unvaccinated.

Professor Andrew Pollard, who helped develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab, told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus that children had a “near-to-zero” risk of severe disease or death from Covid-19 and that global vaccine inequity was “plain to see”.

– So when will we know more?

Mr Hancock said he would be considering advice from the JCVI on the “right approach” before making a final decision.

Vaccines for children could be rolled out from as early as the second half of August if the decision is made to jab those aged 12-15, the Sunday Telegraph reported a Government source as saying.

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