The UK are set to follow Australia’s lead and start vaccinating children as young as 12 from next week but the decision rests entirely in the hands of the kids and not their parents.
The UK’s vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed plans to offer a single Pfizer jab to healthy 12 to 15-year-olds during a speech to the House of Commons on Monday.
Australia announced in late August that from September 13 onwards children between 12 and 17 were eligible for the jab as the federal government looked to prioritise students sitting their end of year exams.
‘Vaccinating young people will protect them and provide peace of mind to their family,’ Prime Minster Scott Morrison said last month.
‘Importantly, this decision provides the opportunity for families to come together to visit their GP and get vaccinated.’
Experts in the UK however are warning the policy that allows students to decide on whether they get the jab may lead to unvaccinated pupils being ‘bullied’ and could even ‘tear families apart’.
Australia announced in late August that from September 13 onwards children between 12 and 18 were eligible for the jab, with the UK following their lead on Monday
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed the plans to offer a single Pfizer jab to healthy 12 to 15-year-olds during a speech to the House of Commons
Earlier this month the JCVI said it could not recommend Covid jabs for healthy 12 to 15-year-olds because the direct benefit to their health was only marginal. It also looked at the risk of health inflammation – known as myocarditis – in young people given the Pfizer vaccine, which was still very small but slightly more common after a second dose
The UK are set to follow Australia’s lead and start vaccinating children as young as 12 from next week but is leaving the decision in the hands of kids
The UK currently has 80 per cent of its adults fully vaccinated, but had been hesitant to start rolling the jab out to children.
The argument was Covid-19 doesn’t have as damaging an effect on young people as it does adults, and the side effects of the vaccine on children hadn’t been explored yet.
The Chief Health Officers of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales met to decide the benefits outweighed the potential risks, with ‘wider societal impacts, including educational benefits’.
‘It reduces the chance a child will get Covid, probably by about 50 to 55 per cent, and it will reduce the chances that a child who then gets Covid will pass it on,’ England’s CHO Dr Chris Whitty said.
ATAGI and the TGA approved vaccinations for children between 12 and 18 in August as they look to vaccinate the group which makes up a population of 1.2million.
‘I would encourage all parents from September 13 to visit the eligibility checker and book your child in for their vaccination, so we can ensure all Australians are protected from Covid-19,’ Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
The UK’s Vaccines Minister Mr Zahawi underlined they would leave the decision in the hands of students – not their parents.
Amid fears the policy could lead to family arguments, he told MPs: ‘Whatever decision is made, they (children) must be supported. No-one should be stigmatised, no one should be bullied for making a decision’.
Mr Zahawi also reiterated the safety of the vaccine for children, saying the decision to offer the jab to 12 to 15-year-olds had followed advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
He said the decision had also been ‘unanimously approved’ by the UK’s four chief medical officers – including England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty.
‘We will now move with the same sense of urgency we’ve had at every point in our vaccination programme,’ he added.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a Tweet on Monday: ‘I have accepted the unanimous recommendation from the UK Chief Medical Officers to offer vaccination to those aged 12 to 15.
‘This will protect young people from catching Covid-19, reduce transmission in schools and help keep pupils in the classroom.’
Around 3million under-16s are due to start getting their jabs from next week after Professor Whitty endorsed the move today, claiming it would help prevent outbreaks in classrooms and further disruptions to education this winter.
Doses will be largely administered through the existing school vaccination programme and parental consent will be sought.
But children will be able to overrule their parents’ decision in the case of a conflict if they are deemed mature and competent enough, which has caused fury.
Angry parents fumed against the move to leave the decision with young children who ‘can’t even decide what they want for tea, never mind’ a vaccine, which carry small risks of side effects such as heart inflammation.
Professor Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading who is in favour of jabbing children, warned that giving youngsters the final say could lead to pupils being bullied by their peers into taking the jab.
He told MailOnline: ‘It will cause rows I think… You may end up in a situation where a minority, it will probably be the unvaccinated, get bullied and excluded by other children.’
Earlier headteachers revealed they had already received letters from pressure groups threatening legal action if schools take part in an under-16 vaccination programme.
The teachers’ union NAHT demanded urgent reassurance medics will be responsible for concerns about consent and vaccination rather than being left to schools, which could lead to tension with parents.
Children’s rights campaign group UsforThem said it needed a ‘cast-iron guarantee’ from the Government that all parents would get the final say on whether their child is vaccinated.
Professor Whitty revealed today that children will be able to override their parents’ decision if they pass a ‘competence assessment’ by the medical professional charged with administering the vaccine.
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF VACCINATING CHILDREN?
The main argument in favour of vaccinating children is in order to prevent them keeping the virus in circulation long enough for it to transmit back to adults.
Experts fear that unvaccinated children returning to classrooms in September could lead to a boom in cases among people in the age group, just as immunity from jabs dished out to older generations earlier in the year begins to wane.
This could trigger another wave of the virus if left unchecked, with infection levels triggering more hospitalisations and deaths than seen during the summer.
Avoiding long Covid in children
While the risk of serious infection from Covid remains low in most children, scientists are still unsure of the long-term effects the virus may have on them.
Concerns have been raised in particular about the incidence of long Covid — the little understood condition when symptoms persist for many more weeks than normal — in youngsters.
A study released last night by King’s College London showed fewer than two per cent of children who develop Covid symptoms continue to suffer with them for more than eight weeks.
Just 25 of the 1,734 children studied — 0.01 per cent — suffered symptoms for longer than a year.
Extremely rare incidences of a rare heart condition have been linked to the Pfizer vaccine in youngsters.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) in the US — where 9million 12- to 17-year-olds have already been vaccinated — shows there is around a one in 14,500 to 18,000 chance of boys in the age group developing myocarditis after having their second vaccine dose.
This is vanishingly small. For comparison, the chance of finding a four-leaf clover is one in 10,000, and the chance of a woman having triplets is one in 4,478.
The risk is higher than in 18- to 24-year-olds (one in 18,000 to 22,000), 25- to 29-year-olds (one in 56,000 to 67,000) and people aged 30 and above (one in 250,000 to 333,000). But, again, this is very low.
Britain’s drug regulator the MHRA lists the rare heart condition as a very rare side-effect of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
They said: ‘There have been very rare reports of myocarditis and pericarditis (the medical term for the condition) occurring after vaccination. These are typically mild cases and individuals tend to recover within a short time following standard treatment and rest.’
More than four times as many hospitalisations were prevented as there were cases of myocarditis caused by the vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds, the health body’s data show.
Jabs should be given to other countries
Experts have also claimed it would be better to donate jabs intended for teenagers in the UK to other countries where huge swathes of the vulnerable population remain unvaccinated.
Not only would this be a moral move but it is in the UK’s own interest because the virus will remain a threat to Britain as long as it is rampant anywhere in the world.
Most countries across the globe are lagging significantly behind the UK in terms of their vaccine rollout, with countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America remaining particularly vulnerable.
Jabs could be better used vaccinating older people in those countries, and thus preventing the virus from continuing to circulate globally and mutate further, than the marginal gains to transmission Britain would see if children are vaccinated, experts argue.
Professor David Livermore, from the University of East Anglia, has said: ‘Limited vaccine supplies would be far better used in countries and regions with large vulnerable elderly populations who presently remain unvaccinated — Australia, much of South East Asia and Latin America, as well as Africa.’
Latest estimates from a symptom-tracking app suggested under-18s had the highest number of Covid cases in the UK (blue line) last week. Schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland started going back on September 1. The data is from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study
Figures from Public Health England show cases in children aged 10 to 19 spiked by 42 per cent in a week from 478.3 per 100,000 to 681.4 in the week ending September 5. This was nearly six times higher than the 114 cases per 100,000 in over-80s — down 1.2 per cent from the week before — and 145.8 in 70- to 79-year-olds — which remained flat
The CMOs admitted the rollout will likely only stop about 30,000 infections among 12 to 15-year-olds between now and March. But the vaccines will prevent tens of thousands more from having to self-isolate and miss school as a result, they claim. Modelling of the winter term estimated that without the vaccines there could be about 89,000 infections among 12 to 15-year-olds, compared to 59,000 with the rollout. Without vaccination they warn of 320,000 school absences by March, whereas this could be reduced to 220,000 with the jabs
Under decades-old medical law used for other routine vaccines, youngsters get the final say if they are judged to have sufficient intelligence to be able to fully understand – and therefore consent to – vaccination.
The scientific community has been split over vaccinating healthy children against Covid because the virus poses such a low risk to them. No10’s own advisory panel said earlier this month that immunising healthy under-16s would only provide ‘marginal’ benefit to their health, and not enough to recommend a mass rollout.
The decision was left with Professor Whitty and chief medical officers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who looked at the wider benefits to society, including keeping classrooms open.
Outlining the decision to press ahead with the move in a Downing Street press conference, Professor Whitty said there were ‘certainly no plans’ at the moment to vaccinate children under the age of 12. Children won’t be given a second dose until more data on the rare complication myocarditis becomes available.
Dr Renee Hoenderkamp, an NHS GP and mother, accused officials of ‘giving up on science’ by pressing ahead with the school roll-out despite No10’s advisory panel ruling that jabs provide only ‘marginal’ benefit to children’s health.
Meanwhile, the UK today recorded 30,825 positive Covid tests, down by a quarter on last week’s count. Hospital admissions fell by around 14 per cent in England, but deaths rose by around 36 per cent to 61.
Jabbing 12 to 15-year-olds will slash school absences by a third and prevent 30,000 infections: The findings which tipped the balance in favour of vaccinating kids
What factors did the CMO’s consider?
The CMOs’ central consideration was the significant disruption to education that students have faced during the pandemic.
They considered the knock-on effect of school closures on children’s physical and mental health, as well as their ‘life prospects’.
The CMOs added that pupils who are eligible for free school meals — such as if their parents receive income support and universal credit — missed 30 per cent more school days than other pupils due to Covid-related absences.
This suggests children from disadvantaged areas may have more to gain from vaccination, they said.
But because there has been lower vaccine uptake among deprived areas, a vaccination rollout to younger children could increase the disparities between socio-economic groups.
Additionally, they noted there would be less economic impact if youngsters were vaccinated, as fewer parents would have to stay home and look after their children, but this was not modelled.
What will the impact be?
Experts based their calculations on what would happen if 60 per cent of healthy 12 to 15-year-olds get the jab in September and calculated what impact this would have between mid October and the end of March 2022.
Based on their central estimates, Covid infections in the age group will drop 33 per cent from 89,000 to 59,000.
And the number of school days missed due to someone isolating while infected with the virus would drop by 31 per cent, from 320,000 to 220,000.
This equates to a fall from 125 students isolating with Covid per 1,000, to 84 pupils per 1,000.
And the average proportion of students absent at any one time due to a positive PCR test is expected to drop by around one third, from 0.13 per cent to 0.09 per cent.
Overall, the jabs would prevent 30,000 infections in 12 to 15-year-olds and reduce the number of missed school days by 110,000.
The experts noted their estimates does not account for how infection rates among school-aged children could change going forward.
And their figures may underestimate the impact of schools returning with fewer restrictions than previously in place.
Their calculations also do not include any small amount of time outside of class to get a jab, or any longer time off required if a child has side effects.
How many children are expected to come forward to the jab?
The Government stressed its estimates of uptake among healthy children aged 12 to 15 is ‘extremely uncertain’.
It based its calculations on 60 per cent of the newly eligible group — around 1.3million — coming forward, but said this could be an underestimate.
The latest data from the ONS School Infection Survey, which asks parents about their hesitancy to children being vaccinated, found just 14 per cent of parents to secondary-age school children to be hesitant.
Some 86 per cent said they definitely or probably would consent to their child being jabbed.
What vaccine will children be given, and how many doses?
Youngsters will be given the Pfizer jab, which numerous studies and real-world analyses have shown to be safe in children.
Children will only be given a single dose.
This is because officials say there is not enough reliable data on the medium-term safety of two doses in youngsters.
A rare heart inflammation condition known as myocarditis is slightly more common after the second dose, which is why the CMOs have held back on recommending two doses for now.
When will the jabs be rolled out?
The announcement from the Department of Health and Social Care assumes the programme will be rolled out in September, so the effect of the vaccines on Covid cases will be seen from October 18 onwards.
The rollout is expected to begin next week.
Who gets the final say – children or parents?
The vaccine will largely be given in schools and parents will be asked to give consent.
But if a parent says no then the child can overrule their decision, so long as they are deemed competent to decide.
Under decades-old medical law, children aged 12-15 who are deemed mature enough get the final say.
Capacity to consent for those under 16 is decided based on whether an individual is deemed ‘Gillick competent’.
The test has been used since 1985 for other routine vaccines.
Gillick competence refers to children who are judged to have sufficient understanding and intelligence to be able to fully understand – and therefore consent to – medical treatment or vaccination.
It is done on a case-by-case basis and a medical professional will decide if a child is capable of weighing up the pros and cons of vaccination.
The chief medical officers said that even though Covid poses a small risk to children’s health, the negative impacts of school closures on their life prospects and mental wellbeing tipped the balance in favour of vaccination.
They have recommended under-16s initially only be offered a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which has shown to be up to 55 per cent effective at preventing infection from the Delta variant.
A decision on second doses is still to be determined when more data is available internationally, with a decision expected by the spring term at the earliest. Officials will weigh up the risk of heart complications, which are slightly more common after the second shot.
The programme in the UK has until now been limited to children with serious underlying health conditions and youngsters who live with extremely vulnerable relatives.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the union NAHT, said schools must now get assurances that medical teams will handle the pressing questions and concerns raised by parents about the rollout to avoid tension.
He said: ‘Now that a decision has been made, it is essential that the Government immediately confirms that the process surrounding vaccinations will be run and overseen entirely by the appropriate medical teams.
‘Where parents have questions, including about important matters such as consent, these must be handled by those same medical teams.
‘There must be no delay in confirming this otherwise school leaders will be put in an impossible position of facing questions to which they simply do not have the answers.’
Mr Whiteman added: ‘School leaders are being put in an invidious position, stuck between parents, pupils and pressure groups, all while simply working to carry out their national duty.
‘Schools must be allowed to focus on their core task of providing education to pupils. We would expect detailed guidance to be published by government clarifying all this without delay.’
It came after headteachers said they were already facing backlash following the announcement.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: ‘Many of our members have been receiving letters from various pressure groups threatening schools and colleges with legal action if they take part in any Covid vaccination programme.
‘This is extremely unhelpful and we would ask those involved in this correspondence to stop attempting to exert pressure on schools and colleges.
‘The question of whether or not to offer vaccinations to this age group has clearly been thoroughly considered and the decision on whether or not to accept this offer is a matter for families.’
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), claimed the decision from the chief medical officers had come to late.
‘While we recognise that a decision on vaccinating children needed careful evidential judgement, it would have been better if a decision could have been made earlier during the summer holidays,’ she said.
‘It will now be well into the autumn before the impact of the vaccination programme will be felt. Schools must be given timely and clear guidance for the next steps.’
She added: ‘It is incumbent on the Department for Education (DfE) to make clear and usable procedures for the necessary parental consent. This is not the time for yet more incoherent guidance from Government.’
Professor Whitty and the CMOs in the devolved nations were asked to look at the ‘broader’ societal benefits of vaccinating schoolchildren at the start of the month after the Government’s advisers ruled against the move.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said immunising healthy under-16s would only provide ‘marginal’ benefit to their health, and not enough to recommend a mass rollout.
But it advised the Government to seek further advice from its chief medical officers about the wider benefits of vaccination on the pandemic, which was beyond the scope of its review.
In their advice to the Government, the UK’s CMOs said they were recommending vaccines on ‘public health grounds’ and it was ‘likely vaccination will help reduce transmission of Covid in schools’.
They added: ‘Covid is a disease which can be very effectively transmitted by mass spreading events, especially with Delta variant.
‘Having a significant proportion of pupils vaccinated is likely to reduce the probability of such events which are likely to cause local outbreaks in, or associated with, schools.
‘They will also reduce the chance an individual child gets Covid. This means vaccination is likely to reduce (but not eliminate) education disruption.’
They admitted the rollout will likely only stop about 30,000 infections among 12 to 15-year-olds between now and March.
But the vaccines will prevent tens of thousands more from having to self-isolate and miss school as a result, they claim.
Modelling of the winter term estimated that without the vaccines there could be about 89,000 infections among 12 to 15-year-olds, compared to 59,000 with the rollout.
Without vaccination they warn of 320,000 school absences by March, whereas this could be reduced to 220,000 with the jabs.