AS the Covid vaccination programme enters its final phase in those under 30, it’s still unclear whether invites will be extended to under 16s.
Experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are yet to decide whether it is necessary to jab kids and teens.
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Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the JCVI, said the body will probably present a range of options to the Government.
After that, ministers will decide how to press forward with jabbing youngsters, with Israel and Italy already ahead.
Prof Harnden stressed that we need to be “absolutely sure that the benefits to them (children) and potentially to society far outweigh any risks”.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Saturday, he also said there are “ethical dilemmas” when it comes to vaccinating children, as millions of adults in poorer countries face worsening Covid outbreaks.
On the other hand, Prof Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the government, has urged ministers to roll out the jab to those over 12 “quickly”.
And other public health experts have said inoculating children as soon as possible will prevent outbreaks in schools and therefore home schooling.
Prof Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol, who is a member of the JCVI, has said that a decision on whether to jab youngsters is a “hard call”.
Matt Hancock, the Health Sec, said there are “plenty of good reasons” to give Covid jabs to children.
But he said “we will also want to be very careful and listen to the scientific advice on exactly what approach to take.”
How effective is the vaccine in children?
There are various trials of leading vaccines ongoing in children.
Pfizer and Moderna have revealed results so far, and they are promising.
Trials found both the Pfizer and Moderna jabs were 100 per cent effective at preventing Covid illness in 12 to 15-year-olds.
When Moderna looked for milder cases after one dose, the vaccine was still shown to be 93 per cent effective.
AstraZeneca was conducting trials on kids aged six to 17-years-old in the UK, but recently halted it due to the rare side effect of blood clots in young adults.
Johnson & Johnson is testing on those aged 12-18 while trials on kids aged between six months and 11-year-old’s are also being held by Moderna and Pfizer.
Are there side effects?
The most common side-effects in children aged 12 to 15 are similar to those in people aged 16 and over, the Pfizer study showed.
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.
When will children get Covid vaccines?
After the astonishing results from Pfizer in March, the UK’s medicine regulator the MHRA authorised the jab in kids aged 12 to 15 last week.
Moderna has also applied for authorisation for its jab to be used in those aged 12 to 17.
After authorisation, the JCVI gives advice to the Government on how best to use jabs.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told LBC radio that the “infrastructure is ready” to vaccinate children and teenagers.
But he said the decision lies with the JCVI.
It was reported that if given the green-light, vaccines could be rolled out to over 12s as early as the second half of August, the Sunday Telegraph reported a Government source as saying.
What will the decision be based on?
Prof Finn said one of the “small mercies” of the pandemic was that kids did not get seriously ill.
Therefore the purpose – to prevent severe disease and death – will not be as worthy in children.
But what the jabs may be useful for among kids is curbing transmission of the virus.
Prof Finn said that if enough immunity was built up through the adult vaccination programme then vaccinating children may not be justified.
Prof Harnden told BBC Breakfast: “I think the vast majority of benefit won’t be to children, it will be an indirect benefit to adults…”
Preventing cases of Covid in kids will also reduce the risk an adult picks the virus up, either because their jab has not worked, they have refused their jab offer or cannot have it for medical reasons.
Many scientists and MPs alike do not agree with vaccinating children, who are unlikely to get severely sick with Covid, when there are millions of adults worldwide waiting for a jab.
In poorer countries where vaccination programmes have been slow, Covid cases are often still very high.
Last month the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said it is “morally wrong” to offer jabs to children in wealthy countries when vulnerable people 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 global vaccine inequity was “plain to see”.
Even celebrities are backing the cause for wealthy countries to share their doses.
David Beckham, Olivia Colman, Orlando Bloom,Whoopi Goldberg and Billie Eilish are among a group of celebs and Unicef ambassadors who have written to world leaders calling for action.
Unicef warned that without ensuring “fair and equitable” supplies of jabs, the world is at risk of future new Covid variants – which could also impact the UK.
Mr Hancock has signalled it would be his “first duty” to see children in the UK vaccinated rather than donate doses to developing countries.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chairman of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, suggested there were enough jabs to cover kids as well as helping other nations.
Children are unlikely to be given AstraZeneca, and so they can be sent to countries abroad, Prof Sridhar said.
She added: “We have the supply – it’s not a large amount, it’s a couple of million doses to cover that population of 12-plus.”
Benefits for kids
Prof Sridhar argued that vaccinating children will prevent outbreaks of Covid in schools, and therefore home learning due to self-isolation.
She told Good Morning Britain: “If we want schools to continue without disruption in the autumn and lift restrictions so children can have a normal experience, we need to vaccinate them, and if we wait and watch for the evidence it will be too late in the next few weeks.
“Given that we know children can transmit, where we are going to see problems going forward is not going to be in care homes, it’s not going to be in hospitals, it’s going to be in schools, because this is where you’re going to see large groups of unvaccinated kids together.”
Long covid also affects children that get the coronavirus, although research suggests it is very rare.
Mr Hancock told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday it is “very rare” that young people are affected “very negatively” by coronavirus infection.
Sir David floated the idea that the Government is secretly planning for herd immunity to build in youngsters.
He told Sky News: “Let me ask you, if I may, to ask the Government, are they actually believing in herd immunity amongst school children?
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“Is that why they’re saying, ‘take masks off it’, so that the disease spreads rapidly and they all become immune by having had the disease?
“If that is a policy, shouldn’t we be honest with the public, and tell us that is the policy?”
Herd immunity – when so many people have immunity against a disease that it creates a protective bubble – is a controversial strategy as it means more illness.