Neil Ferguson expects Chris Whitty to approve Covid vaccines for kids

‘Professor Lockdown’ says he expects Chris Whitty to approve Covid vaccines for 12 to 15-year-olds — with a decision due by FRIDAY

  • Professor Neil Ferguson said today he expects 12 to 15-year-olds to get jabs
  • The epidemiologist said he UK chief medical officers would likely approve plans
  • Government has made no secret of the fact it wants to vaccinate children 

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson expects Britain to press ahead with vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds against Covid

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson revealed today he expects Britain to press ahead with vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds against Covid. 

The epidemiologist, whose frightening modelling prompted the initial shutdown last March, said he ‘expects’ the UK’s chief medical officers to approve the plans.

On Friday, the Government’s vaccine advisory panel said it would not recommend jabs for healthy teens because Covid poses such a low threat to their health.

It has left the decision with Chris Whitty and the CMOs across the devolved nations to decide whether there are wider societal benefits.

MailOnline understands a decision is expected on Friday.

Professor Ferguson said today: ‘Vaccinating that age group would drive down transmission in that population.

‘So on balance I think we will probably move to vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds.

‘It would not surprise me if the chief medical officers decide to go forward with vaccination.’

The Government has made no secret of the fact it wants to immunise children after seeing cases spiral in Scotland when schools returned from summer last month.

There is now an ongoing row about whether children as young as 12 should be given the choice to overrule their parents’ decision.

A British Medical Association chief claimed some 12-year-olds have ‘enough maturity’ to weigh up the pros and cons themselves.

But clinicians have said they are ‘reluctant’ to give children jabs without parental consent.

Those in favour of vaccinating children say it would help to head off a surge in infections later this winter when the NHS is under the greatest pressure.

But others have argued it would be ethically dubious to inoculate the age group when millions of people in poorer countries are still waiting to be vaccinated.

The JCVI said that youngsters under 16 with severe conditions have a one in 10,000 chance of falling seriously ill with Covid compared to the one in 500,000 risk for healthy children. It said that a very rare heart complication associated with the jabs meant the benefits of vaccination ‘only marginally’ outweighed the risks in healthy under-16s, but not enough to recommend a mass rollout

This chart shows vaccinations by age group in England. In the under-18s age group the Covid vaccine is already recommended for 16 and 17-year-olds, and half have already got one dose

Dr David Strain, co-chair of the BMA Medical Academics, claimed youngsters aged 12 to 15 were capable of weighing up the benefits of vaccination against the small risk of serious side effects.

He claimed they should be able to overrule their parents’ wishes and get the injection if officials sign off on the plans this week. 

Pros

Protecting adults 

The main argument in favour of vaccinating children is in order to prevent them keeping the virus in circulation long enough for it to transmit back to adults.

Experts fear that unvaccinated children returning to classrooms in September could lead to a boom in cases among people in the age group, just as immunity from jabs dished out to older generations earlier in the year begins to wane.

This could trigger another wave of the virus if left unchecked, with infection levels triggering more hospitalisations and deaths than seen during the summer. 

Avoiding long Covid in children

While the risk of serious infection from Covid remains low in most children, scientists are still unsure of the long-term effects the virus may have on them.

Concerns have been raised in particular about the incidence of long Covid — the little understood condition when symptoms persist for many more weeks than normal — in youngsters.

A study released last night by King’s College London showed fewer than two per cent of children who develop Covid symptoms continue to suffer with them for more than eight weeks.

Just 25 of the 1,734 children studied — 0.01 per cent — suffered symptoms for longer than a year. 

Cons

Health risks

Extremely rare incidences of a rare heart condition have been linked to the Pfizer vaccine in youngsters.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) in the US — where 9million 12- to 17-year-olds have already been vaccinated — shows there is around a one in 14,500 to 18,000 chance of boys in the age group developing myocarditis after having their second vaccine dose.

This is vanishingly small. For comparison, the chance of finding a four-leaf clover is one in 10,000, and the chance of a woman having triplets is one in 4,478.

The risk is higher than in 18- to 24-year-olds (one in 18,000 to 22,000), 25- to 29-year-olds (one in 56,000 to 67,000) and people aged 30 and above (one in 250,000 to 333,000). But, again, this is very low.

Britain’s drug regulator the MHRA lists the rare heart condition as a very rare side-effect of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

They said: ‘There have been very rare reports of myocarditis and pericarditis (the medical term for the condition) occurring after vaccination. These are typically mild cases and individuals tend to recover within a short time following standard treatment and rest.’ 

More than four times as many hospitalisations were prevented as there were cases of myocarditis caused by the vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds, the health body’s data show.  

Jabs should be given to other countries

Experts have also claimed it would be better to donate jabs intended for teenagers in the UK to other countries where huge swathes of the vulnerable population remain unvaccinated.

Not only would this be a moral move but it is in the UK’s own interest because the virus will remain a threat to Britain as long as it is rampant anywhere in the world.

Most countries across the globe are lagging significantly behind the UK in terms of their vaccine rollout, with countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America remaining particularly vulnerable.

Jabs could be better used vaccinating older people in those countries, and thus preventing the virus from continuing to circulate globally and mutate further, than the marginal gains to transmission Britain would see if children are vaccinated, experts argue. 

Professor David Livermore, from the University of East Anglia, has said: ‘Limited vaccine supplies would be far better used in countries and regions with large vulnerable elderly populations who presently remain unvaccinated — Australia, much of South East Asia and Latin America, as well as Africa.’ 

But Dr Strain admitted that rolling out doses to the age group would only cut transmission by 20 per cent 

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said yesterday that children would be able to get the vaccine against their parents’ wishes if it is made available for the age group.   

Dr Strain, who is also clinical lead for Covid services at the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, told LBC Radio: ‘A lot of children aged 12 have enough maturity in order to make a decision themselves, although it’s not the same for every child.

‘Doctors and nurses are trained to be able to evaluate them and deem them competent.’

‘Vaccinating children will reduce the spread of the virus in the population by about 20 per cent.’

Speaking about his own family, he said: ‘My 16-year-old has already had the vaccine; our 12-year-old, who’s actually starting school tomorrow, will be desperately keen to get the vaccine.

‘We have weighed up the evidence and fully accept there is this very small risk of myocarditis after the first jab, but actually the risk of myocarditis after getting Covid is about the same, if not slightly higher.

‘These are the factors, so I would have no hesitation at all to allow my children to have the vaccine.’

Professor Whitty is under mounting political pressure to approve jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds in England.

Downing Street fears that while daily cases never hit the prediction of 100,000 cases a day over the summer, they could spiral to these levels during the winter months if kids aren’t given vaccines. 

This would leave the country fighting a new Covid wave at the same time as a flu outbreak, putting further pressure on the NHS. 

But in its ruling on Friday, the JCVI said giving Covid vaccines to children would only have ‘marginal’ benefits to their health.

It said that the benefits did not yet outweigh the risk of potential side effects – namely heart inflammation. 

Professor Anthony Harnden, the deputy chairman of the JCVI, this morning acknowledged that the group was in the ‘uncomfortable’ position of disagreeing with the Government. 

He told Good Morning Britain: ‘It is very finely balanced. It’s marginally in favour, actually if you look at all the figures — and we have published those — in favour of vaccination.

‘But I do understand it from a parental viewpoint and I understand it from a teenager’s viewpoint.

‘This is not an easy decision. And, to a certain extent, by us coming out and saying no, if the Government say yes that does create a lot of uncomfortableness, and I fully understand that.’

He said they want to provide the data for everyone to look at and, should the chief medical officers decide healthy children in this age group should be offered a jab, they are ‘giving choice’.

He added: ‘It is up to then parents and teenagers to decide whether they go ahead or not. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this.’

Mr Zahawi told Times Radio yesterday that children would be able to overrule their parents to get the vaccine, should the jab be recommended for the age group. 

He said: ‘What you essentially do is make sure that the clinicians discuss this with the parents, with the teenager, and if they are then deemed to be able to make a decision that is competent, then that decision will go in the favour of what the teenager decides to do.’

Mr Zahawi added that if jabbing 12 to 15-year-olds was recommended by Britain’s medical officers it was ‘absolutely’ the right thing to do.

He said that parents would be asked for consent if jabs were approved for the age group.

Medics have warned, however, that clinicians will be ‘reluctant’ to give jabs to children without their parents’ consent.

The associate professor of family law at Oxford University, Lucinda Ferguson, told The Telegraph: ‘In my view the clinician may well be reluctant to accept that because alongside that, you have now got the JCVI saying that they don’t consider it to be essentially in the medical best interests of children more generally.

She added: ‘At least at this stage wold be reluctant to accept that that consent (from a child) is good enough because of course if you treat a child without informed consent, either from them, or from a parent with parental responsibility, it is technically battery and that would be what would be concerning the clinician.’

Several SAGE members have already said they are in favour of vaccinating the age group to head off a surge in cases later this year. 

Professor John Edmunds, who sits on the powerful committee, said on Saturday: ‘In the UK now it’s difficult to say how many children have not been infected but it is probably around half of them.

‘That’s a long way to go if we allow the infection just to run through the population, that’s a lot of children who will be infected that will be a lot of disruption to schools in the coming months.’

SAGE adviser Professor Peter Openshaw also backed vaccinating the age group yesterday to head off a surge in infections. 

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘We do know the virus is circulating very widely amongst this age group, and that if we’re going to be able to get the rates down and also prevent further surges of infection perhaps later in the winter, then this is the group that needs to become immune.

‘And the best way to become immune is through vaccination, and there’s never been as much information as this in the past.’ 

He added: ‘To my mind, the public health benefit is very, very important, and we have to take the wider view that unless we do get infection rates down amongst this particular part of the population, it will be very, very hard to prevent further large recurrences (of Covid).’

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