The UK’s four chief medical officers have decided that children aged between 12 and 15 should be offered COVID vaccinations, it was announced yesterday. In an attempt to minimise any further disruption to their education, all children in this age group will be offered their first Pfizer jab through in-school vaccination services.
This contradicts the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that ruled that while the health gains did outweigh the risks, the “margin of benefit is considered too small” to support the decision. Unlike adults and older teens, though, this age group will not receive their second vaccination eight weeks later. A second injection may potentially be given in the spring term, but it has been deemed necessary to gather more information about the possible health risks.
In a move that is bound to concern some parents, children can overrule parental consent and receive the jab if they are considered ‘competent to make that decision. So, is it safe for younger teenagers to receive the COVID vaccine?
This is a question that Dr Elaine Tickle has been asked often by her patients with younger children. “I think this is a hard decision. The noise about vaccines not being adequately tested is bothersome, but largely pseudoscience. The issue about children being barely affected by COVID is relevant but should not be our only criteria in this decision.”
The main issues in vaccinating children
With all schools and colleges now back in full education, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in COVID infections. “We know that adolescents are spreading COVID around their communities,” Elaine explains. “It is also clear that the vaccination significantly reduces the risk of transmission. It is not surprising that this decision has been wrested from us parents, as the government has obviously found the figures too big not to push for this.”
However, there are concerns which Dr Tickle puts into context for her patients:
- risk of clots – this is smaller than advertised and at least one factor of magnitude less than the rate of clots from catching COVID.
- risk of an untoward immune response – after several million doses given, this does not seem to be an issue.
- consideration on fertility – there is no data support this concern and some to refute it, in that conceptions have occurred between two vaccinated persons without any obvious difficulties. “Of course, we are quickly into the philosophy of science 101 on this, as proving something is not there is tricky. By the time data accrues, will we be in trouble? I would say not that likely, as pathologically and physiologically implausible constructs.”
“The killer question though: am I vaccinating my kids? Yes, as soon as we are allowed. My daughter had COVID when she was aged 10 and it has taken her 15 months to return to usual lung function and she has mild asthma. My fear for her is that further infection would further affect her lungs.” Teenagers to be ‘offered’ vaccine