The COVID-19 vaccine saves lives and studies have shown it has been clearly effective in reducing deaths and hospitalisations. The vaccine rollout was prioritised to reduce infections or the severity of infections in those who are most at risk from the illness. The likelihood of children becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 is thankfully very low, however some children are at increased risk such those with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression, sickle cell disease, type 1 diabetes and multiple or severe learning disabilities. I am pleased that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved as safe and effective in children aged 12 and over by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
COVID-19 Vaccine for 16-17 year olds
In August the Government announced that 16 and 17 year olds will be offered COVID-19 vaccination. Given the ongoing success of the adult vaccination programme, the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) reviewed the advice for the vaccination of children and young people. That is why the Government has accepted the expert recommendations of the JCVI, which weighed up the benefits of any vaccine against the possible, although extremely rare, side effects, and will be offering the Covid-19 vaccine to 16 and 17 year olds.
To view the JCVI statement on COVID-19 vaccination of children and young people aged 12 to 17 years: 4 August 2021, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/jcvi-statement-august-2021-covid-19-vaccination-of-children-and-young-people-aged-12-to-17-years/jcvi-statement-on-covid-19-vaccination-of-children-and-young-people-aged-12-to-17-years-4-august-2021.
Those aged 16 and 17 do not need the consent of their parents to receive a COVID vaccination. This is because, in the UK a person who is 16 years and above is deemed able to consent for themselves, and if they are competent and able to consent for themselves then that consent holds. This is the case for all medical treatment. More information on consent and NHS treatment can be found here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/consent-to-treatment/children/
COVID-19 Vaccine for Children aged 12 to 15 years
While the vaccines have been deemed both safe and effective, a separate review was undertaken by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to weigh up the health benefits of vaccination for children against the potential harms. This review decided against recommending COVID vaccines for all 12 to 15-year-olds on health grounds alone, given the virus presents such a low risk to them.
In a statement on Friday 3 September, the JCVI said: “the margin of benefit is considered too small to support universal vaccination of healthy 12- to 15-year-olds at this time”. Instead, the committee recommended an expansion to an existing programme of vaccinations for older children with health conditions, including heart disease, type 1 diabetes and severe asthma, increasing the eligible cohort to about 200,000. The existing programme of vaccinations states that children aged 12 to 15 years with specific underlying health conditions and those living with individuals of any age who are immunosuppressed were advised to receive a vaccination.
Children and young people aged 12 years and over who are household contacts of persons (adults or children) who are immunosuppressed should be offered 2 doses of Pfizer vaccine on the understanding that the main benefits from vaccination are related to the potential for indirect protection of their household contact who is immunosuppressed. The offer of vaccination may help to alleviate stress and anxiety experienced by the children and young people living in these difficult circumstances. This advice is provided recognising that persons who are immunosuppressed are at higher risk of serious disease from COVID-19 and may not generate a full immune response to vaccination themselves
However, as stressed by the JCVI in its own statement, their remit does not include wider issues such as disruption to schools. Therefore, their statement isn’t saying no to universal vaccination for children aged 12 to 15. The JVCI have instead said there is a marginal benefit, but as they make clear, they’re assessing it from a very narrow view. Following the JCVI’s announcement, the Health Secretary, and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, wrote to the chief medical officers in their countries, asking them to “consider the matter from a broader perspective”. The UK's chief medical officers are currently reviewing the wider benefits of the move, such as reducing school absences, and they are expected to present their findings within days. While the Government does not want to prejudge the UK’s chief medical officers’ response, vaccinations for all 12- to 15-year-olds is very much still on the table. That said, it is important to note that the Vaccines Minister has said parental consent will be required if the Government decides that all 12 to 15-year-olds should be offered the jab.
To view the JCVI statement on COVID-19 vaccination of children aged 12 to 15 years: 3 September 2021 in full, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/jcvi-statement-september-2021-covid-19-vaccination-of-children-aged-12-to-15-years/jcvi-statement-on-covid-19-vaccination-of-children-aged-12-to-15-years-3-september-2021