Vaccinating children against Covid-19 is a heated topic with strong views on both sides.
While wealthy nations around the globe have begun giving the Covid jab to 12 year-olds, the UK is among the more cautious and has not approved it routinely for under-18s.
Amid all the noise, claim and counterclaim, what are the ethics, politics and most importantly, the safety and usefulness of inoculating children as we try to quell the pandemic?
Read more: Children at ‘extremely low’ risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19
Across the world, millions of under-18s have already had the Covid-19 vaccine with a raft of countries from the USA to France and New Zealand approving it.
Some consider it a crucial move towards reaching “herd immunity” and getting life back to normal for all ages. Others, see it as a sinister move by pharmaceutical firms to make money without fully knowing the side effects on children.
Vaccinating children could stop them spreading Covid-19 but do the possible risks to them outweigh the benefits?
(Image: Joe Giddens/PA Wire)
Critics question why children, the least likely to be seriously at risk, or die, from Covid, should be offered what they say is a potentially risky vaccine, that has caused some deaths in adults and is yet to be adequately trialled in children. Parents complain they are falsely accused of being anti-vaxxers if they are wary about their children getting what they see as an as-yet experimental jab. There is little middle ground.
There is also the matter of whether it is right that children in some wealthy nations are being inoculated while those more at risk from Covid-19, the older and vulnerable, in less well off countries go without.
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Here we take a look at some of the arguments and what’s happening around the world:
On May 5 Canada became the first country in the world to approve the Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in children aged 12–15 years with the USA following later that month. In the US alone around three million children aged 12 and up in the US have now had the vaccine.
Pfizer and Moderna have started their clinical trials for the jab in children younger than 12 and as young as six months old. Pfizer has said that complete trial results will become available in September and the company hopes to start vaccinating young children in 2022.
Countries across the EU are among those worldwide now vaccinating 12 year-olds.
The UK has been more cautious saying that as yet the potential risk, though small, outweighs the benefit to children of having the vaccine.
Different countries are making their own decisions but in late May the European Commission authorised Pfizer and partner BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for use in children as young as 12, after similar clearances in the United States and Canada.
The decision came after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) backed the use of the vaccine in 12- to 15-year olds.
The agency’s endorsement came weeks after it began evaluating extending use of the vaccine to include that age group. The vaccine was already being used in the EU for those aged 16 and above.
France has started vaccinating children from 12 years upwards, provided they have parental consent.
Perceval Gete, 12, became one of the youngest people in Europe to be vaccinated against Covid when he had the Pfizer jab on June 15, the first day the age of eligibility in France was lowered to 12, His mother Melanie Gete said, the more people who get inoculated, the sooner pandemic restrictions can be lifted.
Previously, the youngest age in France was 18, or 16 if the person had underlying conditions, or was in contact with a person vulnerable to the virus.
The limit of 12 years in France is one of the lowest of any major European Union state.
Spain plans to start vaccinating children between 12 and 17 years old around two weeks before the academic year starts in September, the country’s health minister has said.
As far back as May 31 Italy approved extending the use of Pfizer’s vaccine to 12 to 15 year-olds. Those 16 and above were already eligible.
Will administer vaccines for children aged 12-15, it was reported on June 17.
The country’s vaccine advisory committee recommended on June 10 that only children and adolescents with pre-existing conditions should be given Pfizer’s vaccine.
Aims to have over 340,000 children aged 12-15 vaccinated by the end of August, according to news site Vindobona.
Hungary started vaccinating 16 to 18-year-olds in mid-May, according to Xinhua news agency.
Around three million children in the US aged between 12 and 17 have been vaccinated.
The vaccine was approved for children as young as 12 in May and before that those age 16 and above were already getting the jab. President Joe Biden has said vaccines for children under 12 could be available as early as August.
Critics say that’s unlikely as trials began in March for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for younger children and results of those trials aren’t expected until autumn.
Children aged 12 and up can have the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. Health Canada is currently reviewing Moderna’s application for those aged 12 to 17.
The country has approved vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds with Pfizer’s shot with innoculations starting this month.
The government has said it may consider the Pfizer vaccine for children who have a high risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19.
Urging vaccination for all children aged 12-15, after eligibility was extended to this age group in May.
The country’s medicines regulator has provisionally approved use of Pfizer’s vaccine for 12-15 year olds, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on June 21.
Approved emergency use of Sinovac’s vaccine for those between three and 17 in early June.
Offering Covid-19 vaccine to children over the age of 12.
The Pfizer vaccine was approved for those aged 12 and above in May,
Mexico, Brazil and Chile are all offering the jab to children over 12
Dubai has started offering the Pfizer-vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds, after the United Arab Emirates approved the shot for emergency use for the same age group in mid-May.
Why aren’t all under-18s being offered the vaccine in the UK?
The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has just updated its advice on vaccines for young people and concluded there was a small but important risk in giving children the Covid jab. This risk, though small, was not worth taking when they are the group least likely to become seriously ill or hospitalised with Covid, the JCVI decided.
In a statement, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, whose members included experts advising government, said: “Most children are at minimal risk of being made seriously ill by Covid-19.
“Having looked at the available international data, and considered the direct and indirect benefits (such as education), the JCVI has weighed in the balance the benefit to children over 12 of being vaccinated against the very small but important risk of potential side effects from the vaccine. It has decided that for children who are otherwise healthy, the risk is not outweighed by the benefit.”
The JCVI said it will continue to review evidence from around the world on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and whether this changes its view on the balance of risk and benefits.
Why will some children get the Covid-19 vaccine in Wales then?
Children aged 12 and over will be offered a Covid jab in Wales if they are in higher-risk groups.
The Welsh Government has responded to JCVI advice that these groups should be offered the jab saying it will “work quickly to identify these young people and to offer them the vaccine”.
Young people aged 16 to 17 years of age who are at higher risk of serious Covid-19 have already been offered the vaccination in Wales.
When will they get the jab?
No date has been announced for when vaccination of at-risk groups of under-18s will start.
The new advice from the JCVI is that children and young people aged 12 -15 years with specific underlying health conditions that put them at risk of serious Covid-19 should be offered vaccination and;
Children and young people aged 12 years and over who are household contacts of persons who are immuno-suppressed should be offered a Covid-19 vaccination on the understanding that the main benefits from vaccination are related to the potential for indirect protection of their household contact who is immuno-suppressed.
The JCVI has advised ministers that the following groups should be offered Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. This is the only vaccine authorised by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for 12 to 17 year-olds in the UK.
* 12-15-year-olds who are at increased risk of serious Covid-19 and hospitalisation in the following groups:
* Those with severe neuro-disabilities
* Those with immunosuppression
* Those with Down Syndrome
* Those with profound and multiple learning disabilities, severe learning disabilities, or on GP the learning disability register
* 12 to 17 year-olds who are household contacts of people who are immunosuppressed
* Those turning 18 in the next three months
These groups are in addition to those aged 16 and over in an at-risk group
Masks will not routinely be worn in classrooms in the next school year according to the Welsh Government, but it is being left to schools to risk assess locally.
Some arguments against giving all children the Covid vaccine
The severity of Covid in children is normally very low.
Most children are at minimal risk of being made seriously ill by Covid.
Not enough is yet known about the side effects and risks of the Covid-19 vaccine on children.
Benefits don’t outweigh possible risks.
Some arguments for vaccinating children against Covid
Giving all children the Covid jab will help achieve herd immunity to suppress the pandemic and mean a faster return to normal life for all.
Education will not be disrupted again.
Although children are not as severely affected by Covid as adults they can spread the virus to older people who may need to be hospitalised and may die, or get long Covid.
Who is calling for under-18s to be vaccinated against Covid?
Among those asking for under-18s to be inoculated are David Evans, Wales secretary of the NEU Cymru teachers’ union and Lecturers’ union, the University College Union (UCU).
Universities Wales, which represents employers, has urged all students to get both jabs before returning to courses in September, or as soon as they can on arrival.
They say it will help protect staff and wider society and avoid further disruption to education.
Some doctors are also asking for it to be considered. But they are also cautious.
Sunil Bhopal Chair of the International Child Health Group and Honorary Assistant Professor at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has spoken of the disastrous effects of lockdown on children believes more time and knowledge is needed.
He said: “We need to consider vaccine strategy for under-18s – which vaccine, how many vaccines and what dose we want to give.
“The longer we wait the more options we will have to choose the safest and most effective vaccine.”
There has been anger at suggestions of a vaccine passport to get into events or even education. Some say this amounts to coercion and young people are being made to get vaccines to protect others when their interests have not been protected..
Do young people want the vaccine?
91% of vaccinations now involve second jabs, while total numbers of vaccinations are dropping.
More than a quarter of people aged 18 to 29 – 26.6% are yet to have the first dose.
More than 30% of the youngest age group have now had their second doses.
Health boards have been offering walk-in vaccinations to make it easier for younger people.
It has been estimated that at the current rate of people turning up for their jab it would take around eight months to reach all under-30s in Wales.
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