In an open letter to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid – and the Ministers for Health in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland – the JCVI acknowledges such a move might involve “potential harms”. “There is considerable uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the potential harms [around Covid vaccinations in the young],” the letter read. While, admittedly, the benefits of vaccination in this age group was considered “marginally greater” than the potential known harms, the margin of benefit was deemed “too small”.
This is why the JCVI made clear that they did not support a universal programme of Covid vaccination for otherwise healthy 12 to 15 year olds.
In response to such a remark – given on September 2, 2021 – the health Ministers asked the JVCI to consider the “wider societal and educational impacts” on Covid vaccination in school-aged children.
Taking a broader perspective, the JCVI sought further advice from independent expert leaders of the clinical and public health profession from across the UK.
- Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
- Royal College of General Practice
- Royal College of Psychiatry
- Faculty of Public Health
- Academy of Medical Royal Colleges representing all the other Royal Colleges and Faculties
- Association of Directors of Public Health
- Regional Directors of Public Health
- National public health specialists
- Experts in data and modelling.
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The JCVI accepted that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is “in law” the appropriate body to determine whether, based on a risk analysis, the vaccine is safe and effective to administer.
The MHRA did grant permission for children to be vaccinated against Covid with either the Pfizer or Moderna jab.
However, the JCVI stands by its position that the overall advantage of vaccination is “not sufficiently large to recommend universal vaccination”.
The JCVI, on the other hand, does support vaccination for children with underlying health conditions and for those who live in an immunocompromised household.
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“The COVID-19 Delta variant is highly infectious and very common,” the letter stated.
Thus, “the great majority of the unvaccinated will get COVID-19”; and while those aged 12 to 15 who catch Covid will rarely become seriously ill, the risks of Covid vaccinations are also rare.
One such risk of Covid vaccination is myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle.
Why Covid vaccinations in school-aged children is going ahead
While full closures of schools due to lockdowns is “much less likely” to be necessary moving forward in battling Covid, the epidemic is expected to be “prolonged and unpredictable”, the letter pointed out.
In order to minimise school disruption (in the face of local surges of Covid infections), vaccinations are seen as one way to keep children in school.
The UK’s Chief Medical Officers agree that it’s “likely” vaccination will help reduce the transmission of Covid in schools, which may prevent closures.
It should also help to reduce the chances of an individual child from catching the infection.
By lowering the risk of disruption of schooling, the Chief Medical Officers pointed out that the mental health benefits for children to stay in school.
Thus, these benefits “provide sufficient extra advantage” to vaccinating children.
“It is essential that children and young people aged 12 to 15 and their parents are supported in their decisions, whatever decisions they take,” the letter continued.
“[Parents and children should] not be stigmatised either for accepting, or not accepting, the vaccination offer.”