My 14-year-old daughter is all for it. “Do I look like an anti-vaxxer?” she says when she’s asked. I think that means she considers the refuseniks a bit odd. But it’s not just up to her. Sajid Javid, thank God, has decided that parents will have the final say on the question even though (appallingly) children can quite legally have treatments like vaccines and contraceptives without their parents’ consent.
And not everyone will consent. About a fifth of parents are against the idea. Indeed, the Government’s own advisory body on vaccinations, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has been reluctant to be pushed by a mustard-keen Government into recommending jabs for healthy 12-15 year olds on the reasonable grounds that they want to be convinced by the evidence first. Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the committee, says a little tetchily that they’ll decide on the basis of children’s best interests (i.e. not at ministers’ say-so).
So it’ll be a few weeks before we have to decide. The decision has been lumped together with the other political imperative, booster jabs for adults, which ministers are also keen to promote. Flushed with the success of the original two-shot vaccination programme, the thinking in Government appears to be the more the better.
Certainly the Delta variant of Covid is a problem, as the Israeli government has found. And granted, when children return to school — sites of cross infection for any bug or virus — there will be an increase in cases of transmission. Professor Niall Ferguson of Imperial College London — alas, known to some of us for his interesting love life as well as his virus mapping record — has said that there is likely to be “quite a significant surge of cases” as schools return. Yesterday’s figure for infections in the whole population was 38,154.
But what does a surge actually mean? I think by now we’ve got our heads round the idea that it’s one thing to have Covid, quite another to die of it, or to end up in intensive care. And children without underlying health conditions are far less likely to be seriously affected by the virus if infected.
And the Government, in its boosterish keenness to vaccinate anything that moves, hasn’t gone out of its way to unpick the data. How many of the 38,154 were so seriously affected by infection that they had to go to hospital? How many died? How many had conditions that made them more vulnerable to serious consequences? Before we get over-excited about the Delta strain, we should, I think, know a little more about the actual effects of it on children.
The elderly obviously should be offered booster shots, ditto anyone with clinical vulnerabilities. But healthy children? Do they actually need it? We should have a more categoric answer to that than we have had. And what about the fact that so many of us — more than nine in 10 — have antibodies against the virus presumably from normal exposure to it? Does herd immunity count?
I was all for vaccinating children and I said so to anyone who’d listen. After I’d declared that I’d be getting my daughter vaccinated, a friend, a philosopher, wrote to say he disagreed. My daughter’s risk of a life-altering illness from Covid is very small, he said, and if she gets Covid she may actually acquire lifelong immunity. In fact she may already have had asymptomatic Covid and have immunity as a result. Moreover, the risks of new and experimental vaccines had to be considered, especially for a young girl. He sent me a couple of papers, including one based on a study conducted by Pfizer which suggested there may be unintended consequences of the vaccine (though it didn’t focus on the young).
Obviously that’s not conclusive. There are many other scientists who argue that in weighing up the benefits and potential costs of vaccinating children the balance of risk favours vaccination. Medical opinion seems pretty unequivocal about vaccinating the old but less decided about vaccinating children. That’s exactly why JCVI is taking its time to evaluate the evidence. That will give its final judgement greater force.
As for me, the decision is made. My husband wants my daughter to be vaccinated. He’s a medic. And his father died from Covid.
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