Three million children aged between 12 to 15 years old will be offered one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from next week. Whilst parents, guardians or carers consent will be sought, the child will have the last word if they are considered competent to decide by themselves.
The UK’s Chief Medical Officers are recommending vaccines for 12–15-year-olds on “public health grounds” because it is “likely that vaccination will help reduce transmission of Covid-19 in schools”. Covid-19 is very contagious, and it is hoped that having a significant number of pupils vaccinated will reduce the probability of local outbreaks, reduce individuals contracting Covid-19 and eliminate education disruption.
Statistics show that children are highly unlikely to become seriously ill with Covid-19. In England, data from the first 12 months of the pandemic shows that 25 under-18s died from Covid-19. However, children are not immune to the virus. Some children will fall ill, and for those that do there is the additional risk of long Covid. This could have lifelong consequences.
Evidence shows that a single dose of Pfizer cuts the risk of catching the Covid-19 Delta variant by 55% and has a much greater effect on preventing severe illness and death. The risks of the vaccine are minimal. Data from the US suggest a higher rate of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) but this was only after a second dose and the UK are currently only offering single jabs.
Arguably, the biggest disruption for children during Covid-19 has been the impact on their education and extracurricular activities and the effect of this on their metal health and wellbeing. This essentially is why the Chief Medical Officers have stated that children should be eligible for the jab. Irrespective of any direct health benefit this should lead to less interruption to school and allow them to mix more freely with their friends.
At present, there are no plans to look at vaccinating the under-12s.