Covid vaccine for children: Everything you need to know about jabs for kids – from side effects to protection
AS the Covid vaccination programme moves through the final phase in those under 30, it's still unclear if teens and children will get jabs.
Experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are yet to announce whether it is necessary to jab kids and teens.
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But yesterday, a Cabinet minister suggested the JCVI had decided not to give the go-ahead.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss told BBC Breakfast: “Of course the Government will look very closely at the JCVI’s recommendations.
“It is my understanding that they are not recommending the vaccination of under-18s and we will be saying more in due course about that.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the JCVI "haven't made any comments at this stage".
“We await a recommendation from the JCVI following the MHRA’s decision… we constantly followed the JCVI advice on prioritisation so we await that recommendation", they said.
The JCVI have a number of factors to weigh up to make their decision.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the JCVI, has previously said there are “ethical dilemmas” when it comes to vaccinating children.
The body will probably present a range of options to the Government.
After that, ministers will decide how to press forward with jabbing youngsters, with the US, Israel and Italy already ahead.
Academics have debated the issue for weeks, with it coming to the forefront recently as those aged 18 and over are set to be invited this week.
Matt Hancock, the Health Sec, said there are “plenty of good reasons” to give Covid jabs to children.
But he said “we will also want to be very careful and listen to the scientific advice on exactly what approach to take".
How effective is the vaccine in children?
There are various trials of leading vaccines ongoing in children.
Pfizer and Moderna have revealed results so far, and they are promising.
Trials found both the Pfizer and Moderna jabs were 100 per cent effective at preventing Covid illness in 12 to 15-year-olds.
When Moderna looked for milder cases after one dose, the vaccine was still shown to be 93 per cent effective.
AstraZeneca was conducting trials on kids aged six to 17-years-old in the UK, but recently halted it due to the rare side effect of blood clots in young adults.
Johnson & Johnson is testing on those aged 12-18 while trials on kids aged between six months and 11-year-old's are also being held by Moderna and Pfizer.
Are there side effects?
The most common side-effects in children aged 12 to 15 are similar to those in people aged 16 and over, the Pfizer study showed.
They include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle and joint pain, chills and fever.
These effects are usually mild or moderate and improve within a few days.
When will children get Covid vaccines?
After the astonishing results from Pfizer in March, the UK’s medicine regulator the MHRA authorised the jab in kids aged 12 to 15 in early June.
Moderna has also applied for authorisation for its jab to be used in those aged 12 to 17.
After authorisation, the JCVI gives advice to the Government on how best to use jabs.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told LBC radio at the end of May that the "infrastructure is ready" to vaccinate children and teenagers.
But he said the decision lies with the JCVI.
It was reported that if given the green-light, vaccines could be rolled out to over 12s as early as the second half of August, the Sunday Telegraph reported a Government source as saying.
So with everything in place to give jabs to children, what will the decision be based on?
1. Whether it's safe
Prof Stephen Evans, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the benefit of vaccines for kids is "minimal", and therefore may be outweighed by any risks.
He said: "It is a complex question for JCVI; if the benefits to the individual vaccinated child are extremely low, are we absolutely sure that there is no very rare harm that they may suffer?
"If there were, the balance to the child could be unfavourable."
Prof Evans said the balance of risk to benefit can change during vaccination – as it became clear over time the AstraZeneca jab was linked to blood clots in younger adults.
He added: "Those countries that have decided to vaccinate children may generate that knowledge, but not until many millions of children have been vaccinated will it be clear."
Prof Harnden stressed that we need to be “absolutely sure that the benefits to them (children) and potentially to society far outweigh any risks”.
2. Real-world impact
Some have questioned whether it is worth offering vaccines to children when it would have little clinical benefit.
Prof Evans said: "Children are at extremely small risk of any adverse outcome, especially death, resulting from Covid.
"Vaccinating them would largely bring benefits to others – adults including teachers who they may infect with the virus if the children themselves are infected.
"We do not know with certainty that vaccinating children will notably reduce their possible transmission of the virus to others…"
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, said the risk of death in children is literally "one in a million".
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on June 16: “We know in wave one and wave two put together there were 12 deaths in children – in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland put together – and that is rare, because there are about 13 to 14 million children in the UK.
“So we’re talking about vaccinating children here mainly to protect public health and reduce transmission."
Preventing transmission will reduce the risk an adult picks the virus up, either because their jab has not worked, they have refused their jab offer or cannot have it for medical reasons.
However, even the argument of whether vaccinating to reduce the spread is debated, because children are not thought to spread the virus as much as adults.
Many scientists and MPs alike do not agree with vaccinating children, who are unlikely to get severely sick with Covid, when there are millions of adults worldwide waiting for a jab.
In poorer countries where vaccination programmes have been slow, Covid cases are often still very high.
The director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, who helped develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab, has said it is “morally wrong” to offer jabs to children in wealthy countries.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard told the Science and Technology Committee of MPs on June 16: “(There is) a moral objection to vaccinating a population that is (at) extremely low risk of disease.
"Whilst we know in many parts of the world, there are people who will die over the next three months because they have no access to the vaccine.
“The priority if we take a global perspective has to be to save lives around the world, and to have had doses made available as early as possible to those at greater risk.”
Even celebrities are backing the cause for wealthy countries to share their doses.
David Beckham, Olivia Colman, Orlando Bloom,Whoopi Goldberg and Billie Eilish are among a group of celebs and Unicef ambassadors who have written to world leaders calling for action.
Unicef warned that without ensuring “fair and equitable” supplies of jabs, the world is at risk of future new Covid variants – which could also impact the UK.
Mr Hancock has signalled it would be his “first duty” to see children in the UK vaccinated rather than donate doses to developing countries.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chairman of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, suggested there were enough jabs to cover kids as well as helping other nations.
Children are unlikely to be given AstraZeneca, and so they can be sent to countries abroad, Prof Sridhar said.
She added: “We have the supply – it’s not a large amount, it’s a couple of million doses to cover that population of 12-plus.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, agreed the number of vaccines which would be needed to vaccinate 12 to 18-year-olds “won’t solve the global vaccines” issue.
4. Benefits for kids
Prof Sridhar argued that vaccinating children will prevent outbreaks of Covid in schools, and therefore home learning due to self-isolation.
She told Good Morning Britain on June 7: “If we want schools to continue without disruption in the autumn and lift restrictions so children can have a normal experience, we need to vaccinate them, and if we wait and watch for the evidence it will be too late in the next few weeks.
“Given that we know children can transmit, where we are going to see problems going forward is not going to be in care homes, it’s not going to be in hospitals, it’s going to be in schools, because this is where you’re going to see large groups of unvaccinated kids together."
Long covid also affects children that get the coronavirus, although research suggests it is very rare.
PHE's Dr Hopkins said on June 16: "You have to see what is the benefits to vaccinating children actually for their own health, it is small at the moment."
But she said there was "clearly a risk of long Covid, particularly in teenage children".
5. Herd immunity
Professor Sir David King the former chief scientific adviser to the government urged ministers to roll out the jab to those over 12 “quickly”.
Without urgency, Sir David floated the idea that the Government is secretly planning for herd immunity to build in youngsters.
He told Sky News: “Let me ask you, if I may, to ask the Government, are they actually believing in herd immunity amongst school children?
“Is that why they’re saying, ‘take masks off it’, so that the disease spreads rapidly and they all become immune by having had the disease?
“If that is a policy, shouldn’t we be honest with the public, and tell us that is the policy?"
Herd immunity – when so many people have immunity against a disease that it creates a protective bubble – is a controversial strategy as it means more illness.
Professor Adam Finn, who is part of the body which advises the Government on vaccines, said that if enough immunity was built up through the adult vaccination programme then vaccinating children may not be justified.
He told Good Morning Britain on June 7: “If indeed it turns out that children can be indirectly protected by the immunity that we induce in adults then there’s clearly no justification for immunising – or at least immunising all of them."
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