Children could start getting Covid vaccines over the summer as part of the government's herd immunity strategy. As Katy Balls reported last month, the current thinking in government is that vaccinating the majority of the population is the best way to stop the virus in its tracks. But where does this leave parents like me who have concerns about giving their children the jab?
NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens has already mooted the idea of combining the flu and Covid vaccinations into one dose. And streamlining the two vaccinations makes perfect sense for adults. But it could put parents in a difficult position.
Flu can pose a much greater risk to children than Covid – it causes more child deaths in the U.S. than any other vaccinated disease. My own daughter ended up in hospital after flu complications last winter. And yet, parents who want their child to receive the flu jab but not Covid may not be given that option.
It’s one thing to hand out vaccine certificates or stickers to children who receive the jab, but quite another to use another much-needed vaccine as a carrot with which to tempt parents. It’s also counter-intuitive if the move backfires. Influenza hospital admissions place a huge burden on the NHS each winter. Unvaccinated children will only add to the pressure.
It would be wrong to tarnish parents who have concerns about vaccinating their children against Covid-19 as ‘anti-vaxxers’ or to suggest they are not doing their civic duty. It is a new vaccine that has only been trialled on 240 children in the UK to date, compared with 10,754 adults in the Oxford AstraZeneca trials in 2020.
I’m perfectly happy to take the vaccine myself but, with such a small pool of trial data, is it right to give it to my children? It’s impossible to monitor the long-term side effects of the vaccine before the proposed roll out in August. Parents have every right to question the inclusion of children in the programme, especially when children are not old enough to make the decision themselves.
One of the key arguments for vaccinating children is that it will prevent transmission in schools. But does the evidence back this up?
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control concluded that schools do not play a major role in the transmission of Covid-19. And these findings are backed up by a study published in February by two of the government’s own scientific advisors. This found that infections in schools lagged behind those of the rest of the community.
All this leads to the question of whether it’s necessary to vaccinate children at all. Boris Johnson himself has admitted that it’s not realistic to eliminate Covid completely. Why, then, is there a renewed push towards vaccinating the entire population? It’s costly, potentially coercive and it puts parents in the unenviable position of having to make a decision about a vaccine for which there is only a small amount of trial data available. The government can press ahead with its August roll out if it likes, but, if it wants parents to cooperate, it will have to answer our perfectly valid concerns.