Official government vaccine advisers will not rush to launch an immunization program for adolescents despite demands from teacher leaders to prioritize high school students.
It is understood that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) believes that the ethical issues involved in vaccinating children must be delicately balanced and will require a complicated series of judgments on how to proceed in the coming weeks.
On the one hand, it is clear that children transmit Covid to some extent and vaccinating them would help reduce case rates. However, it has also been noted that children rarely get the disease on their own and, given the vaccines, are at risk of potential side effects.
There must be some significant and tangible benefit to them, not just indirect protection of adults against Covid-19 by vaccinating young people, the researchers say. Such a situation could arise if a particularly severe third wave of Covid-19 began, triggering new closures that could result in school closings and a further disruption of children’s education. So it is argued that a vaccination program for young people might be justified.
The JCVI must consider the issue after the drug regulator approved the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12-15 in the UK. It’s already approved for that age group in the US, Canada, and the EU.
There is also a broader concern in the scientific and medical community that once all UK adults have been vaccinated, vaccines may be more beneficial if given to more adults in other countries. This point was recently highlighted by the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said that while he understood why some countries wanted to vaccinate children and adolescents, he urged them to reconsider.
“In low- and lower-middle-income countries, the supply of the Covid-19 vaccine has not been enough to even immunize healthcare workers, and hospitals are flooded with people in need of urgent life-saving care,” He said.
Teacher leaders have called for pupils to be vaccinated as a matter of priority, and data shows that outbreaks of the Delta variant of Covid were occurring in schools across England. The variant, first detected in India, appears to be more transmissible than the previous dominant variants. Unions said starting a teen vaccination program soon could mean most high school students would get two doses by the time schools start the new term in September.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has indicated that there is “enough supply” to offer the vaccine to children 12 years and older if the JCVI makes that recommendation.
The government is pushing the use of regular testing as the best way to identify asymptomatic cases and keep schools open. This comes as education secretary Gavin Williamson urged students and their families to take an exam before returning to school after the middle of the term this week. “When the semester comes to an end, take a Covid test before heading back to the classroom,” he said. “Asymptomatic tests help break the chains of transmission by removing people who are infectious but do not know it from the circulation.” The department said covid-related student absences had remained “consistently low” since the start of the summer term, with only about 1% of students absent from state-funded schools for reasons related to the covid every day since April 21.
Figures released earlier this week show that more than 50 million rapid coronavirus tests have been performed among students and staff at schools and universities in England since January 4.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism