Three million children aged 12 to 15 will be able to receive their first coronavirus vaccine from next week. The UK’s four chief medical officers (CMOs) have said they should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine.
So what are the benefits, what are the risks and should children be vaccinated?
What exactly was recommended and why?
UK CMOs recommend vaccines for 12 to 15 year olds for ‘public health reasons’ as it is ‘likely that vaccination will help reduce transmission of Covid-19 in schools’.
They added: “Covid-19 is a disease that can be transmitted very effectively by mass spread events, especially with the Delta variant. Having a large proportion of students immunized is likely to reduce the likelihood of such events leading to local epidemics in or associated with schools.
“They will also reduce the risk of an individual child contracting Covid-19. This means that vaccination is likely to reduce (but not eliminate) disruption in education. “
The Joint Committee on Immunization and Immunization (JCVI) has previously said that Covid poses a very low risk to healthy children and that vaccines would offer only a marginal benefit.
How did the JCVI and the CMOs make different decisions?
JCVI’s Professor Wei Shen Lim said there was “no conflict” between his advice and that of the CMOs, adding that the CMOs looked at the jabs from a much broader perspective.
England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said CMOs “as a whole think of the benefits both at the individual level and in terms of broader perks to and through education. for public health, otherwise we would not make this recommendation ”.
So do children need the Covid vaccine?
Since the start of the pandemic, evidence has repeatedly shown that children are very unlikely to become seriously ill with Covid-19. Data from the first 12 months of the pandemic in England shows 25 under-18s died from Covid.
However, this does not mean that children are immune to the virus. Some will get sick, and for those who do, there is the added risk of long Covid, which could have lifelong consequences.
Even before the first lockdown, concerns were also expressed about the virus’s indirect effects on children. The most significant was the disruption of schools, which had serious repercussions on their mental and physical health, as well as on their education.
This is basically the reason why all four marketing directors said children between the ages of 12 and 15 should be eligible for the jab.
They believe that being vaccinated will reduce the risk of disruption in school and extracurricular activities and the effect this has on their mental health and well-being.
What are the benefits?
A single dose of Pfizer will significantly reduce the chances of a young person contracting the Covid and transmitting the virus.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says that a jab is likely to benefit healthy children, regardless of any direct health benefits, as it will allow them to have fewer interruptions from school and to stay healthy. mix more freely with their friends.
Getting the vaccine will also offer more protection to friends and family members whose health may be threatened by the virus. This additional protection will not only benefit those around the children, but may also benefit them indirectly. For example, a vaccinated child is less likely to pass the virus on to a parent, which means that the parent would be less likely to become too sick to properly care for their child.
Providing vaccines to children could also help reduce the anxiety some children feel about Covid-19.
What protection does a jab offer?
Clinical evidence shows that a single dose of Pfizer reduces the risk of catching the Delta variant of Covid-19 by 55% and has a much greater effect in preventing serious illness and death. It also cuts off the transmission.
Will the jab hurt?
No. However, there could be side effects. The most common in children 12 to 15 years old are similar to those in people 16 years and older.
They include pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain, chills, and fever. The effects are generally mild and improve within a few days.
What are the risks ?
The risks are minimal. The vast majority of children who have received injections worldwide have not experienced any serious side effects.
Data from the United States and Canada suggests a higher rate of the extremely rare event of inflammation of the heart muscle, known as myocarditis. However, this was only after a second dose.
JCVI has been asked to consider whether second doses should be given to children and youth aged 12 to 15 once new data is reported internationally.
Could jab affect a child’s future fertility?
There is no evidence that Covid-19 vaccines have an effect on the chances of getting pregnant or having children. However, false and misleading claims about Covid vaccines and fertility are still circulating online, even if they are not supported by evidence.
Doctors are very careful about recommendations during pregnancy, so the initial advice was to avoid jabs. However, there is now so much safety data after a year of administering vaccines that that advice has changed and the vaccine is now actively promoted, especially since obtaining Covid can itself put a pregnancy into the future. danger.
The Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) also said: “There is no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 vaccines will affect fertility and your ability to have children.”
The MHRA said it came to this conclusion because its “expert scientists and clinicians continuously monitor the safety of Covid-19 vaccines and rigorously review all reports of suspected side effects, as well as other sources of safety information “.
What if a child had already had the Covid?
More than half of children of secondary school age may have some natural immunity after being infected.
However, although people get an immune response after contracting Covid, it varies from person to person and depends on whether they have had a mild infection or a more serious infection.
Research shows that many people with a very mild or asymptomatic infection can only form very low levels of antibodies. This is why it is recommended that even if a person has been infected, they still receive a vaccine, as this then stimulates the immune system.
How will the jabs be provided?
The school-age vaccination service will deliver most of the program in schools, with separate vaccination sites used for students when this is not possible.
Do parents have to give their consent?
Yes. If a child is offered vaccination at school, a consent form can be given to give a parent’s permission.
The nurse or general practitioner will discuss the Covid-19 vaccine during the appointment and will be able to answer any questions. But parental consent may not be the last word if the child is considered competent to make a decision for himself.
What if a child wants to override his parent?
Kids can override parents who don’t want them to get the jab. However, Whitty said that in the “vast majority of cases, children and their parents come to the same decision.”
Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “In the rare event that a parent does not consent but the child or adolescent wishes to be vaccinated, then there is a process by which the vaccination clinician School age bring the parent and child first to see if they can reach a consensus and if not, if the child is deemed competent, then vaccination will take place.
What about the other children?
Every 16-17 year olds are already offered a first dose, with the intention of having a second later. People aged 12 to 15 are eligible for two doses if they are at higher risk for a number of problems.
Whitty said there were “no plans at the moment” to consider vaccinating under 12s.
Where can I find more information?
The government has published a guide for children and parents online.