JCVI experts NOT to recommend Covid jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds

JCVI experts NOT to recommend Covid jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds

Chaos over jabs for kids: Shock as JCVI experts decide NOT to recommend Covid jabs for healthy children aged 12 to 15, while ministers dramatically ask England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty to reconsider… so what WILL parents think?

  • Vaccination rollout expansion was put into chaos after government advisers refused to back a mass rollout
  • Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said it would not recommend jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds
  • But it did recommend 200,000 more children with heart, kidney, lung and neurological conditions get jabbed
  • Health Secretary Sajid Javid made unprecedented move to ask the chief medical officer for a second opinion
  • UK’s four chief medical officers will spend the next week weighing up whether to vaccinate the age group

Plans to vaccinate children are in chaos after government advisers yesterday refused to back a mass rollout.

After weeks of pressure for a decision, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation ruled the 12-15 age group should not get Covid jabs.

It said the benefit to their health was not large enough to outweigh the risks.

But in an unprecedented move, Health Secretary Sajid Javid immediately asked the chief medical officer for a second opinion.

He told Chris Whitty to take into account ‘non-health benefits’, including whether vaccinating children would reduce disruption to their education. The professor will spend the next week weighing up evidence before making a recommendation.

Last night, a Government source told the Mail that jabbing 12 to 15-year-olds was still ‘very much on the table’. Many senior ministers strongly back the idea and Professor Whitty has hinted he could support it.

The JCVI’s decision means an inevitable delay to any rollout, as well as uncertainty for schools and parents just as millions of children return to class for the autumn term.

Education unions warned that ‘time was pressing’ and lessons would be disrupted. The decision highlights the growing tension between ministers and advisers on the next phase of the vaccine rollout, following a fierce debate over plans for a booster programme for older adults.

As another 42,076 coronavirus cases and 121 deaths were reported:

  • Tory former health secretary Jeremy Hunt urged ministers to overrule dithering officials and ‘avert a winter catastrophe’ by urgently rolling out booster jabs;
  • Writing in the Mail, he said the UK had ‘no room for hesitation or delay’ in offering third doses to all adults;
  • Vaccine passports are set to be introduced for football matches, pop concerts and business conferences, despite mounting Tory opposition;
  • Four police officers were injured in clashes with anti-vaccine protesters in London;
  • A study suggested one in seven primary schools plan to keep class ‘bubbles’ amid fears over the spread of coronavirus;
  • Four million doses of the Pfizer jab will be sent to Australia, with the country reciprocating before the end of the year.

The mass rollout of vaccines was initially approved by the JCVI only for over-18s. The committee then extended it to 16 and 17-year-olds in a U-turn last month.

Since then it has come under intense political pressure to cover the 12-15 age group. Ministers fear the failure to vaccinate these children could lead to a surge in new cases as pupils return for the new academic year.

Cases in Scotland have soared since schools returned last month, with infections among youngsters now higher than at any time during the pandemic.

Tensions over the issue, which have been simmering for weeks, burst into the public domain on Thursday when Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said offering Covid jabs to 12 to 15-year-olds would be ‘deeply reassuring’ to parents.

This graph shows the number of first doses dished out by age group. The NHS publishes age groups as periods of five years, and groups all those under 18 together. It shows more than 620,000 have already been inoculated among under-18s

Latest estimates from a symptom-tracking app suggested under-18s had the second highest number of Covid cases in the country (blue line). Only 18 to 35-year-olds had a higher number of Covid cases (orange line). That is despite schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland only starting to go back this week. The data is from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study

Latest Public Health England data showed Covid cases are rising fastest among 10 to 19-year-olds (grey line) and 20 to 29-year-olds (green line). Approving Covid vaccines for 12 to 15-year-olds would likely help curb the spread of the virus in the age group, scientists in favour of the move add

It came as official data showed Scotland’s weekly Covid cases have nearly trebled in the fortnight after schools went back after summer there There are fears the rest of the UK will be hit with a similar bang in cases now that classes are resuming this week


Scientists were at war over vaccinating children against Covid today. Professor David Livermore (left) says it is ‘plausible’ that immunity from natural infection could last longer for children. Dr Simon Clarke (right) said he would have no issue with children being vaccinated providing consent was sought from their parents. Some experts have said that vaccinating children will help avoid disruption to their education

Which 12 to 15-year-olds will now be offered a Covid vaccine?

Healthy children under the age of 16 do not need to be vaccinated against Covid, the Government’s vaccine advisory panel ruled today.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the virus posed such a low risk to 12 to 15-year-olds that the benefit of vaccination to their health would be marginal.

But they did recommend the jabs for 200,000 more children with chronic conditions that put them at greater risk from Covid. A total of 350,000 children aged 12 to 15 are now eligible for the vaccine.

Children aged 12 to 15 who have the following conditions can now get a Covid vaccine:

  • Haematological malignancy;
  • Sickle cell disease;
  • Type 1 diabetes;
  • Congenital heart disease;
  • Other health conditions such as poorly controlled asthma that mean a child is considered to be part of the ‘Covid clinical risk group’. 

But yesterday the JCVI said it was sticking to a ‘precautionary approach’ and only 200,000 at-risk children in this age group should get jabbed.

Because youngsters are so unlikely to get ill with Covid, the medical benefits were not judged to be great enough to outweigh the small risk of side effects, including heart inflammation.

The panel said it was not qualified to determine whether vaccinating children would have wider benefits. ‘It is still finely balanced,’ said Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the JCVI.

‘We don’t think on the basis of health alone that we should be vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds. But given this is so finely balanced there may be other considerations like education.’

Mr Javid said: ‘Along with health ministers across the four nations, I have written to the chief medical officers to ask that they consider the vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds from a broader perspective, as suggested by the JCVI.

‘We will then consider the advice from the chief medical officers, building on the advice from the JCVI, before making a decision.’

He said that – given the importance of this issue – he would like the advice ‘as soon as possible’.

A government source expressed relief that the committee had finally given a response after months of deliberation.

The insider added: ‘Vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds is still very much on the table.

‘In fact we are probably a step closer, as the chief medical officers who will now look at it will also be able to take into account wider health considerations, such as the impact on life chances and damage to mental health caused by disruption to education.’

Mr Javid’s move signals escalating frustration over the JCVI’s decision-making speeds.

So what happened today?

After weeks of pressure for a ruling, the Government’s independent advisers on vaccines, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), decided not to recommend the mass rollout of jabs to all 12 to 15-year-olds.

Why didn’t they recommend the vaccine?

The JCVI looks solely at the medical grounds for vaccinating children. Because children are extremely unlikely to get ill with Covid-19, any side-effects become more important compared with adults. The JCVI said the decision was ‘very finely balanced’. It said that while the health benefits of the vaccine probably did outweigh any harms, the margin was too small to be sure and there was ‘insufficient’ evidence for a mass rollout. Fewer than 30 under-18s have died of Covid in the UK.

What do we know about side-effects?

A small number of children have developed cases of heart inflammation called myocarditis after the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. This is extremely rare – affecting between three and 17 teenagers per one million first doses given out. This rises to 12 to 34 more for every million second doses. The condition mainly affects teenage boys after the second dose. Most youngsters make a full recovery. But experts are still uncertain about the long-term consequences.

Did the committee recommend the jab be rolled out to any children?

Yes. Currently, around 150,000 severely disabled 12 to 15-year-olds with conditions including Down’s syndrome get the vaccine. Yesterday, the JCVI said this group should be expanded to include about another 200,000 children with underlying health conditions such as type 1 diabetes and sickle cell disease.

So what happens now? Could healthy 12 to 15 year-olds still get vaccinated?

Potentially, yes. The JCVI does not consider the wider societal impacts of vaccination. Given the enormous disruption to education during the pandemic, the committee urged UK health ministers to seek further advice on the broader impact of vaccination. Therefore the buck has essentially been passed to the UK’s four chief medical officers. Health Secretary Sajid Javid wrote to Professor Chris Whitty asking him to consider a broader base of evidence.

How will a decision now be made?

Professor Whitty and health experts will review evidence showing how many children may need time off school due to outbreaks. Sources are adamant children will not be vaccinated to protect adults and reduce a potential winter wave. The process is expected to take a few days and advice will be presented to ministers. A final decision could come at the end of next week.

Why is the UK taking a different approach to other countries?

France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, the US and Norway are among the nations now offering jabs to children aged 12 to 15. Experts on the JCVI take a ‘precautionary approach’ that only recommends the vaccine to those children with underlying health conditions, rather than a one-size-fits-all strategy.

If a rollout is approved will parents get a say?

Parents’ written consent will be required before their children are given a vaccine. The NHS is ready to ‘hit the ground running’ if vaccines are approved for schoolchildren. Last week they were told to recruit and train staff to go into schools to give pupils Covid jabs.

The UK is now lagging behind several major nations which have already begun immunising youngsters, including France, Spain, Italy and the US.

Members of the JCVI, an independent body established in 1963, acknowledged they were facing political pressure.

Professor Adam Finn, a paediatrician from the University of Bristol who sits on the committee, said: ‘The recommendations that we’ve made twice already on vaccinating children were straightforward health-based ones.

‘What is different now is the calls from the professionals in education or from the teaching unions, and from the politicians to decide – and the timing of this in the context of the school year.

‘We have to acknowledge that the environment we’re working in is different. This is a very unique situation where it’s very hard to think of another disease that has caused so much disruption to schooling. Therefore it’s not something that is likely to be replicated for other infectious diseases and vaccines in the future.’

But the delay in authorising vaccines for younger children means hundreds of thousands of pupils will be mixing for weeks before any rollout is approved by the JCVI.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was ‘disappointed’ by the committee’s decision to exclude them. Professor Whitty will convene an expert panel to review evidence assessing the impact of the pandemic on children, particularly on disruption to education.

Some experts have argued that vaccinating children is the best way to reduce the size of a winter Covid wave and protect the elderly and vulnerable.

NHS England revealed yesterday that more than 620,000 youngsters aged 16 and 17 have been jabbed.

On Thursday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he felt parents would find it ‘deeply reassuring’ to have a choice of whether their children should have a jab or not, adding that many people hoped they would be in a position ‘of being able to roll out vaccinations for those who are under the age of 16’.

The Government has said if all 12 to 15-year-olds were to be offered a vaccine, parental or carer consent will be sought as it is in other school immunisation programmes.

Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann said he agrees the issue of a wider rollout ‘warrants further consideration’.

He said: ‘It is entirely appropriate that our most senior medical advisers take forward this piece of work urgently. I look forward to seeing their considerations in the near future.’

Welsh Government Health Minister Eluned Morgan said she had asked the country’s chief medical officer ‘to provide guidance at the earliest opportunity on the clinical and wider health benefits of vaccinating this age group’, while Scottish Health Minister Humza Yousaf said he had asked for the review to be conducted ‘as soon as possible’.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said he is disappointed by the JCVI decision not to recommend jabs for all 12 to 15-year-olds.

He added that while they respect it, it could mean it is ‘more difficult during the autumn term and beyond to guard against educational disruption caused by transmission of the virus’.

He said: ‘We are therefore pleased that the door appears to have been left at least partially open as the government looks at wider issues including disruption to schools. The trouble is that time is pressing, the autumn term is upon us and we really do need a decision.’

Scottish Health Minister Humza Yousaf said: ‘I have agreed with the other three UK Health Ministers to write a letter asking the four Chief Medical Officers to consider this latest guidance and explore whether there is additional evidence to suggest it would be beneficial to offer vaccination to all 12 – 15 year olds. 

‘We have asked for this further work to be conducted as soon as possible.’ 

The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, has asked the NHS to put preparations in place to roll out vaccinations to 12 to 15 year olds, should it be recommended by the Chief Medical Officers.

If this group is offered the vaccine, parental or carer consent will be sought, just as with other school immunisation programmes.


Scientists were at war over vaccinating children against Covid today. Professor David Livermore (left) says it is ‘plausible’ that immunity from natural infection could last longer for children but Professor Devi Sridhar (right) says the virus could rip through the country again 

This will lead to yet more school chaos, say heads

BySarah Harris for the Daily Mail 

Head teachers yesterday warned it will be more difficult to guard against ‘educational disruption’ after the Government’s advisers ruled out jabs for over-12s.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the virus posed such a low risk to 12 to 15-year-olds that the benefit of a mass rollout would be marginal.

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was ‘disappointed’ by the JCVI’s decision.

He said: ‘We understand this decision has been made after making an assessment of the balance of risks and with all the available evidence, and we respect that decision.

‘Nevertheless, the upshot is that this would make it more difficult during the autumn term and beyond to guard against educational disruption caused by transmission of the virus.’

But Mr Barton welcomed news that the ‘door appears to have been left at least partially open as the Government looks at wider issues including disruption to schools’.

The UK’s four chief medical officers will spend the next week weighing up whether vaccinating secondary school-aged children will have a broader benefit to society.

Additional safety measures in schools will become ‘more important’ if they decide not to agree to the jab, the country’s largest teaching union warned yesterday.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘Sadly, in taking away so many safety measures last term, without replacing them with others, the Government has left schools open to another rise in case counts – which will mean many children and staff missing school if they test positive.’

The National Association of Head Teachers also called on ministers to improve ventilation in schools.

General secretary Paul Whiteman said: ‘With the decision not to vaccinate younger teens now taken, ventilation continues to be a critical part of schools’ efforts to maintain a safe working and learning environment.’

 

The vaccination programme has so far provided protection to over 48 million people over the age of 16 across the UK – including over 48 million first doses and over 43 million second doses.

The latest data from Public Health England and Cambridge University shows vaccines have saved more than 105,000 lives and prevented 143,600 hospitalisations and 24 million cases in England.

Senior ministers were said to be increasingly embittered at the failure of Government experts to authorise the rollout of Covid vaccines to under-16s ahead of the decision from the JCVI.

A Whitehall source said there was ‘palpable frustration’ among Government figures with the JCVI. Both Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Sajid Javid are said to be keen to get on with vaccinating school children.

Ministers fear the new academic year will trigger a fresh wave of the virus in classrooms. This means that without a jab, children could face more disruption to their education throughout autumn and winter. 

Last night one Whitehall source admitted: ‘There is palpable frustration that this is taking so long. The jabs have been approved for months, other countries have been doing it safely for months – we are becoming an outlier.

In the meantime, we have missed the window of opportunity in the summer and the schools are going back.’

Meanwhile, in a clear sign of the enthusiasm for the jab among teenagers, figures showed half of 16- and 17-year-olds have already had a vaccine dose in just four weeks.

Scientists and ministers were at war today over whether the UK should be routinely vaccinating children against Covid ahead of the announcement from the JCVI.

Professor Hunter said today he was against vaccinating children, although he had faith that whatever decision the JCVI comes to will have been the most informed.

He told MailOnline: ‘The issue around whether we should be vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds is whether there is enough vaccine to go around people who are vulnerable worldwide.’ 

Professor Hunter added that as the direct benefit of vaccines to children was small because Covid is a mild illness for the overwhelming majority of them.

He said he would prefer to see the doses shipped to developing nations which are struggling to get first doses to vulnerable people.

And he raised doubts about whether it was ethical to vaccinate children against a mild disease in the first place. 

‘If we are going to be vaccinating these children it has got to be in their interest, not in ours,’ he said.

‘It is one thing to say have a vaccine to protect your health, but quite another thing to persuade you to have a vaccine to protect my health. One is entirely ethical and the other is dubious.’

Professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, said last week that the world will need to live with Covid for years if not decades — so having a generation of children with natural immunity would help prevent cases spiralling later down the line. 

He said natural infection could be a ‘a better first step in the lifelong co-existence’ with the virus than rolling out the jabs.

He added: ‘There is no direct reason to vaccinate children and adolescents against Covid. They are extremely unlikely to suffer severe disease if infected.

‘Rare but serious side effects have been associated with the vaccines, including blood clots and myocarditis. For older adults and the vulnerable, these are small hazards compared with those from Covid infection, and being vaccinated is obviously prudent. 

Which countries are already offering jabs to 12 to 15-year-olds?

The JCVI has resisted calls to recommend vaccines for healthy under-16s.

While the move will irk Government ministers who were keen to go ahead with the plans to keep infection rates in schools low, some scientists applauded the panel for not bowing to political pressure and ‘following the science’.

But the country is at risk of becoming an international outlier as many other western nations have already started jabbing children. They include:

  • Denmark, from August 
  • France, from June 15
  • Parts of Germany, from August 
  • Israel, from June 6
  • Italy, from August 11
  • The Netherlands, from July 
  • Norway, from September
  • Poland, from June 
  • Parts of Spain, from August
  • Sweden, from August 
  • Switzerland, from July
  • The US, from May 10 

‘But for children the risk/benefit ratio is far less clear, and may reverse. The JCVI initially were against vaccinating children on this logic and have provided no clear reason for a change of view.

‘Taking these three points together I can see no good reason to vaccinate under-18s, let alone 12-year-olds.’

But the move to jab healthy kids for Covid has been backed by several experts who warn that letting the virus rip through schools could result in more disruptions to education and force lockdown restrictions to be rolled back.

Dr Clarke told MailOnline: ‘As long as the data that exists is that there is no greater harm from giving children jabs then children should get vaccinated, with the caveat that there is parental choice.

‘There have been suggestions that the Americans, the Irish, care less about their children than we do — of course they don’t. They are very sensitive about this issue as well.

‘I see no evidence that there is a problem with vaccinating children.’

He said the decision not to inoculate children before they returned to school was a ‘missed window of opportunity’ because the jabs could have reduced transmission of the virus.

Britain has been accused of being sluggish to roll out the Covid vaccine to other age groups, as its vaccination drive fell behind other countries.

US regulators approved Pfizer’s jab for 12 to 15-year-olds in May, and has already got at least one dose to 40 per cent (7million) of the age group.

The EU’s regulator also gave the age group the green light to get the jab at the end of May, with many countries quick to start rolling it out.

France began inoculating 12 to 15-year-olds in June, and more than 40 per cent (2million) have already received a first dose.

Italy started rolling out jabs to the age group from July with the aim of inoculating them before schools return. The Netherlands also began rolling out the jabs to secondary school children in July.

Should the UK jab 12-year-olds? Experts say it’s ‘unethical’ to vaccinate children to protect adults from Covid and claim kids may get ‘better immunity’ if they catch virus naturally — but others warn of school closures and lockdown curbs if we don’t

Scientists and ministers were at war today over whether the UK should be routinely vaccinating children against Covid now that the majority of Western countries are doing so.  

British advisers are resisting growing pressure to roll out jabs to healthy 12 to 15-year-olds despite the US, France, Spain, Italy, Canada, Norway and the Netherlands all pressing ahead with the move.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) — an independent body which advises the UK Government on the Covid jab roll-out — claims it’s still not clear if the benefits outweigh the risks.  

Experts pushing back against the plans today argued that it would be ‘ethically dubious’ to jab children solely to protect adults, because Covid itself poses such a tiny risk to youngsters.

Others believe it is better for children to catch Covid and recover to develop natural immunity than to be reliant on protection from vaccines, which studies suggest wanes in months.

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘It is one thing to say have a vaccine to protect your health, but quite another thing to persuade you to have a vaccine to protect my health. One is entirely ethical and the other is dubious.’

And Professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the same university, said natural infection could be a ‘a better first step in the lifelong co-existence’ with the virus than rolling out the jabs.

But the move to jab healthy kids for Covid has been backed by several experts who warn that letting the virus rip through schools could result in more disruptions to education and force lockdown restrictions to be rolled back.

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, told MailOnline today that he would feel comfortable vaccinating children so long as their parents consented. 

He said the wider benefits to keeping schools open and infection rates low outweighed any small risks of side effects from the jabs.  

And in a letter written to the Education Secretary today, a group of scientists said the wider effects curbs would have on children’s learning, health and wellbeing meant it was ‘reckless’ to send secondary children to classes unvaccinated.

The JCVI is believed to be concerned about the small risk of heart inflammation in young people.

Children have only a small risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid and a vanishingly small chance of death, while the jabs are associated with rare cases of myocarditis in young people.

The JCVI said in July there was a risk of the heart inflammation in about one in 20,000 young people after being fully immunised with Pfizer’s vaccine. 

The Moderna jab, which works in a very similar way, is thought to carry the same risk. 

The JCVI ruled against recommending the vaccine to healthy children then because the risk of dying from the virus for them is lower than one in a million.

Fewer than 300 children have been hospitalised with Covid in England since the pandemic began and all but around 20 had underlying health issues. No healthy child is believed to have died from Covid in the UK.  

Professor Hunter said today he was against vaccinating children, although he had faith that whatever decision the JCVI comes to will have been the most informed.

He told MailOnline: ‘The issue around whether we should be vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds is whether there is enough vaccine to go around people who are vulnerable worldwide.’ 

Professor Hunter added that as the direct benefit of vaccines to children was small because Covid is a mild illness for the overwhelming majority of them.

Covid cases in Scotland soared 170% in the fortnight after schools went back, official data shows — amid fears the rest of UK is next 

Scotland’s Covid cases soared by more than two and a half times in the fortnight after schools went back from the summer break, official figures showed today — in a clear warning sign to the rest of the country.

The Office for National Statistics’ weekly surveillance report estimated 69,500 Scots, or one in 75 people, were infected with the virus on any given day in the week to August 27, up 170 per cent.

In England infections have plateaued but remain stubbornly high with the ONS estimating 766,100 people had Covid last week or one in 70, barely a change from the previous seven-day spell.

Experts fear infections could spiral as children returned to classrooms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this week. 

The UK’s vaccine advisory panel is being lobbied hard by ministers, politicians and some scientists to give the green light to rolling out the vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds but it has so far resisted the calls.

Britain is becoming an international outlier with France, the US, Canada, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands all already administering jabs to over-12s. Last night Norway became the latest country to OK the move. 

But some experts say letting children get Covid naturally is a better way to create immunity because the virus itself poses such a low risk to them, whereas the vaccines come with dangerous side effects in rare cases.

The spike in Scotland has also led to growing calls for No10’s vaccine advisory body to recommend a mass booster campaign. But it could be weeks before it is signed off. 

 

He said he would prefer to see the doses shipped to developing nations which are struggling to get first doses to vulnerable people.

And he raised doubts about whether it was ethical to vaccinate children against a mild disease in the first place. 

‘If we are going to be vaccinating these children it has got to be in their interest, not in ours,’ he said.

‘It is one thing to say have a vaccine to protect your health, but quite another thing to persuade you to have a vaccine to protect my health. One is entirely ethical and the other is dubious.’

Professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, said last week that the world will need to live with Covid for years if not decades — so having a generation of children with natural immunity would help prevent cases spiralling later down the line. 

He said natural infection could be a ‘a better first step in the lifelong co-existence’ with the virus than rolling out the jabs.

He added: ‘There is no direct reason to vaccinate children and adolescents against Covid. They are extremely unlikely to suffer severe disease if infected.

‘Rare but serious side effects have been associated with the vaccines, including blood clots and myocarditis. For older adults and the vulnerable, these are small hazards compared with those from Covid infection, and being vaccinated is obviously prudent. 

‘But for children the risk/benefit ratio is far less clear, and may reverse. The JCVI initially were against vaccinating children on this logic and have provided no clear reason for a change of view.

‘Taking these three points together I can see no good reason to vaccinate under-18s, let alone 12-year-olds.’

And Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, told MailOnline vaccinating children would ‘use up’ Britain’s supply of jabs designated for boosters for the clinically vulnerable this winter. 

Professor Spector said while vaccinating would reduce cases ‘in an ideal world’, in the immediate term it could take up supply intended for booster shots to older, more vulnerable people who’s own immunity from vaccines given earlier in the year may be on the wane.

He added: ‘With vaccinating children you are going to reduce numbers of infections, but if you do that that means you use up your boosters and so you risk more deaths and hospitalisations at the other end of the spectrum.

‘In the ideal world I would be in favour of doing both [booster shots for the elderly and vaccines for over-12s] but I definitely think we should be giving boosters to kids that have had natural infections.’ 

But an equal number of scientists say that vaccinating children would have indirect benefits to them, such as keeping them in education and avoiding future lockdowns which took a toll on young people’s mental health. 

A group of 12 scientists on Independent SAGE – a group which has attacked the Government for not being strict enough in controlling the virus – wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today to call for children to receive the vaccine for exactly that reason.

In the letter published in the BMJ they argued that policies in England mean there will soon be a large population who are ‘susceptible’ to the virus mixing in crowded spaces with ‘hardly any mitigations’.

WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF VACCINATING CHILDREN?

Pros

Protecting adults 

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. 

Cons

Health risks

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.’

They said children have suffered ‘significant harms’ on their education and wellbing in the pandemic and added: ‘Allowing mass infection of children is therefore reckless.’ 

Earlier school reopenings in Scotland and the US have shown that a lack of ‘adequate mitigations’ is likely to lead to the virus spreading among children, which could further disrupt learning with significant absences due to student and staff illness, they said.

‘England’s policies mean that we will soon have a large susceptible population with high prevalence of infection mixing in crowded environments with hardly any mitigations.’ 

Other signatories include members of the Parent SafeEdForAll group and the National Education Union.

UK medical regulators cleared the Pfizer jab for use on 12- to 15-year-olds in June, declaring it ‘safe and effective in this age group’. The Moderna vaccine was also authorised last month.

Ministers had hoped to vaccinate children during the school holidays to prevent a repeat of the massive disruption seen in schools over the past 18 months.

However, with schools already going back this week and next, hundreds of thousands of pupils will be mixing for weeks before any rollout is approved by the JCVI – if it is approved at all.

Dr Clarke told MailOnline: ‘As long as the data that exists is that there is no greater harm from giving children jabs then children should get vaccinated, with the caveat that there is parental choice.

‘There have been suggestions that the Americans, the Irish, care less about their children than we do — of course they don’t. They are very sensitive about this issue as well.

‘I see no evidence that there is a problem with vaccinating children.’

He said the decision not to inoculate children before they returned to school was a ‘missed window of opportunity’ because the jabs could have reduced transmission of the virus. 

SAGE adviser Professor Calum Semple, from Liverpool University, echoed the scientists views last week, saying that without vaccines children faced yet more ‘disruption’ to their education in the new academic year. 

The Liverpool University expert told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If you treat children the same way you do with adults, where if you have got double vaccination you no longer need to isolate, that would then allow us to have schools carrying on without such disruption.

‘I think we need to look at vaccinating these children not just as an individual benefit but a benefit to the root, a benefit to the whole of society and school and the education system.’

Professor Devi Sridhar, a public health expert at Edinburgh University, said last week that children should get vaccines to stop the Delta variant ‘flying through’ schools as they reopen.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said in June that he backed vaccinating children to avoid any further disruption to their education.

Clinical studies show that vaccines cut the risk of the virus spreading between people, but real-world data suggests they may only reduce this by as much as half.

For comparison, jabs drastically cut the risk of someone being hospitalised or dying from the virus. This is already vanishingly small for children. 

Other scientists are, however, more skeptical about offering vaccines to the age group.  

A Whitehall source said there was ‘palpable frustration’ among Government figures with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which has so far not approved the jab.

Both Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Sajid Javid are said to be keen to get on with vaccinating secondary school children.

Ministers fear the new academic year will trigger a fresh wave of the virus in classrooms. This means that without a jab, children could face more disruption to their education throughout autumn and winter.

But the JCVI, which is independent of Government, yesterday warned that a decision on the issue was ‘finely balanced’, with one senior committee member bristling at the idea that it should respond to political pressure.

Another said the committee would not be bounced into vaccinating younger children just because many other countries were now doing so. 

Last night one Whitehall source admitted: ‘There is palpable frustration that this is taking so long. The jabs have been approved for months, other countries have been doing it safely for months – we are becoming an outlier.

‘In the meantime, we have missed the window of opportunity in the summer and the schools are going back.’

Publicly, Downing Street insists the matter is purely for the JCVI. But while another Whitehall source said the JCVI had ‘done a great job’ at the start of the vaccination programme, they acknowledged the length of time taken by the committee over children was frustrating.

‘Everything is in place to get this rolled out,’ the source said. ‘We just need a decision.’

Speaking at the weekend, Mr Javid said vaccinating all teenagers would ‘solidify our wall of protection’.

The move is also backed by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who has warned that countries like Malta are already insisting all over-12s must quarantine on arrival unless they have been fully vaccinated.

A Government source has predicted take-up among younger children would be as high as 16- and 17-year-olds, if and when the green light is given. 

Most Covid curbs have been lifted in schools in England, with children now only required to test themselves twice a week for the virus.

Only those that test positive for the virus will be sent home, but their peers and classmates will be allowed to stay in school providing they test negative. The change came after the ‘bubble system’ sent entire year groups home after just one positive test was detected. 

Britain has been accused of being sluggish to roll out the Covid vaccine to other age groups, as its vaccination drive fell behind other countries.

US regulators approved Pfizer’s jab for 12 to 15-year-olds in May, and has already got at least one dose to 40 per cent (7million) of the age group.

The EU’s regulator also gave the age group the green light to get the jab at the end of May, with many countries quick to start rolling it out.

France began inoculating 12 to 15-year-olds in June, and more than 40 per cent (2million) have already received a first dose.

Italy started rolling out jabs to the age group from July with the aim of inoculating them before schools return. The Netherlands also began rolling out the jabs to secondary school children in July.

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