MORE than half of 16 and 17-year-olds have now had their Covid-19 vaccinations, and all 12 to 15-year-olds are being offered a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.
Here we put your questions to the experts to find out how the vaccine is helping young people protect themselves against coronavirus.
Q: Why should young people get vaccinated?
A: Dr Bob Phillips
Vaccines as a whole are a way of preventing the complications of infectious diseases. If we can cut down the number of people who have the infection, that means that there are fewer people to pass it on to others, and so the infection just doesn’t go through the population.
We’ve done this in the past, with things like measles. After a decent level of vaccination around the country, measles is a really uncommon illness in the UK – but we still see the problems of childhood measles infection in areas of the world that don’t have high levels of vaccination. Vaccines improve the health of everyone, both the recipient and the community at large.
When it comes to Covid-19 and the jab – the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 vaccination – that’s what we’re doing in this situation: we’re improving the health of the community at large. We’re doing this to make the whole country healthier.
Q: Will the vaccine help keep schools open?
A: Dr Elaine Lockhart
I believe young people aged 12 to 17 should be getting the vaccine. It’s not a silver bullet, vaccines alone will not prevent everyone from getting Covid-19, but they will prevent the spread of the virus and keep young people in school, doing activities and being able to meet up outside the home.
Many young people have had Covid-19 – some have been really quite unwell with it, so it’s not just a minor illness for all children between 12 and 15 – and whole classes have had to go home and other members of family have had to self-isolate.
The vaccine will help prevent further disruption in schools and protect the mental health of young people.
We’ve already seen the huge impact school and college closures have had on young people’s wellbeing. And if young people need to stay off school and their parents need time off to look after them, it’s the most vulnerable who will be really badly affected.
Q: Is the vaccination safe for black, Asian and minority ethnic young people?
A: Dr Farzana Hussain
Yes, absolutely. Covid infection rates for BAME people are higher and catching the virus is more likely to cause death and serious illness for people in those groups. Therefore it is more important for them to be vaccinated.
If you’re black African or black African-Caribbean and you get Covid, you are five times more likely to die compared with a white person who contracts the virus. If you’re Bangladeshi, again, you’re also more likely to die. We do know that the vaccine is the only thing that can save your life.
Q: Has the vaccine been rigorously tested on the younger age group?
A: Dr Dawn Harper
Yes, I feel very confident about the science behind it. There was a lot of debate in the media around risk versus benefit in different age groups, all the way through.
Young people are less likely to get seriously ill, but we need to look at the bigger picture, such as missed education, protection against long Covid and letting kids get out and about again so that we can help them with any mental health issues.
Q: Does the vaccine have any likely side-effects for young people?
A: Dr Dawn Harper
The main one is perhaps a bit of soreness in the arm. Schools and colleges are used to offering immunisations – we’ve been offering the HPV vaccine through schools for a while – so they’re well set up to do it. It’s an incredibly safe vaccine.
‘We can’t just give up now’
Influencer Amazing Arabella, 17, and her brother JD, 16, from London are two young people who are looking forward to getting their vaccine.
“I think it’s a great thing for everyone to have,” says Arabella. “It’s keeping everyone safe, which is good as well. I think people want to get back to normality, just like I do. There are loads of cool events coming up, such as Hallowe’en, Christmas – and my birthday!
“We all want to go to them, we don’t want to miss them. We want to spend time with our families too. And we just want to be out and about and back to normaI. I think that’s what it’s all about. I’m looking forward to going back to normal.”
Arabella believes it’s young people’s duty to help out.
She says: “It’s very important for young people to have the vaccine. I think that younger people especially feel like they’re immune to everything but we can actually be spreading it, including to older people, who we already know are vulnerable to the virus.”
Arabella’s brother JD agrees, not least because he wants to enjoy the rest of the year with his friends and family.
“This is something that’s going to make the world a safer place,” he says. “I’m not worried about getting Covid myself, I just want to help out and make sure everyone’s good. And I want to celebrate Arabella’s birthday properly.”
And mum Shadia, 42, is supportive of their decision.
She says: “Protecting everyone is one of our values in society. A lot of older people died at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, and we don’t want anything else like that to happen. So I think it’s important that we all protect each other, young and old.”
“So much work has gone into protecting people, especially here in the UK with the NHS,” Arabella adds. “We can’t just give up now. We have to play our part.”
Youngsters and parents – what to do next
People aged 16 to 17 can now book jabs online at: nhs.uk/covidvaccination.
Those aged 12 to 15 will be able to receive their jab at school. They can get vaccinated on the day of a visit from the School Age Immunisation Service. If parents have any queries, they can ask the service (contact details can be found within the information leaflet parents will receive).