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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Covid: Which children are being vaccinated and why?


By James Gallagher
Health and science correspondent

image source, Getty Images

All children aged 12-15 across the UK will be offered one dose of a Covid vaccine.

It is hoped the measure will help prevent further disruption to their education.

Why will all children aged 12 to 15 get a jab?

Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said it was a “difficult decision”, but that absence from school “has been extraordinarily difficult for children”, particularly in deprived areas.

Extended disruption could cause mental health problems and have long term effects on life chances, he added.

Vaccinating children won’t stop the spread of Covid in schools, but should help keep cases down.

Evidence suggests a single dose cuts the risk of catching the Delta variant (if you come into contact with it) by about 55%. It also reduces the chances of you getting very sick or spreading it to someone else.

A second dose should not be considered before the spring term, the chief medical officers said.

Which other children are already being vaccinated?

Those aged 12 to 15 are already eligible for two doses if they are at higher risk due to:

  • Severe neurodisability (which could include cerebral palsy, autism or epilepsy)
  • Down’s syndrome
  • A severely weakened immune system, including some children with cancer
  • Profound and multiple learning difficulties
  • Chronic heart, lung and liver conditions

Children of the same age who live with people who have a suppressed immune system can also be vaccinated.

image source, Getty Images

Is the vaccine compulsory?

No. Prof Whitty said an “offer” of vaccination will be made to all children aged 12-15.

But he said young people and their parents needed to be supported, and there should be no stigma attached to their choice.

Will parents have to give permission?

The vaccine is mainly likely to be given in schools and parents will be asked for consent. In Scotland, children are initially being invited to go to vaccination clinics, accompanied by their parents.

Although parental consent is being sought, children under 16 who can prove they understand the risks and benefits can ask for the vaccine – or refuse it – if they disagree with their parents.

This important legal test of whether a child can consent to treatment is known as “Gillick competent”. It is named after a famous dispute in which a teenager wanted contraceptive advice without her mother’s consent.

In practice it would be extremely unusual for a child under 13 to be judged Gillick competent.

Those aged 16 and 17 don’t need parental permission, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

What vaccine is used and will younger children be jabbed?

There is no vaccine currently approved for under-12s in the UK.

Is the Covid vaccine safe for children?

No medicine is completely safe and all are a balance of risk and benefit.

But the Pfizer jab wouldn’t have been approved for UK use if it wasn’t considered safe.

The vaccine has been linked to incredibly rare cases of inflammation of both the heart muscle (myocarditis) and the sac the heart beats inside (pericarditis). This was found to be more common in younger men, and to be more likely after a second dose.

Both Pfizer and Moderna are conducting trials of their vaccines on children as young as six months old.

How many children have died from Covid?

Almost all children and young people are at very low risk from Covid-19.

Data for England suggests about 25 children died from Covid in the first 12 months of the pandemic.

The majority of them also had severe health problems, including complex neurodisabilities.

Only six had no recorded health conditions.

How does the UK compare to other countries?

  • In the EU – countries including France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy have begun jabbing children
  • The US recommends all over-12s be vaccinated
  • China aims to have all 12- to 17-year-olds vaccinated by October

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