Dr David Strain said children can consent to get the vaccine
Children should be able to overrule their parents to get the Covid vaccine, a BMA chief has claimed.
Dr David Strain said 12 to 15-year-olds have ‘enough maturity’ to decide for themselves whether to get the jab.
The co-chair of the medical body added that rolling out doses to the age group could cut the spread of the virus in schools by 20 per cent.
The Government has made no secret of the fact it wants to jab kids after seeing cases spiral in Scotland when schools returned from the summer holidays.
No10’s vaccines advisory group said last week that the vaccines offered only a marginal benefit to children because they are at such low risk from the virus.
This left ministers in the unprecedented position where the decision on jabbing the age group was now up to Professor Chris Whitty and the three other chief medical officers (CMOs) in the devolved nations.
They will meet this week to decide whether the broader societal benefits tip the balance in favour of jabbing children, with a decision expected by Friday.
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.
Several SAGE members came out over the weekend in support of vaccinating children, questioning the advice from the JCVI — which is independent of the Government.
They argued that vaccinating children 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 difficult to inoculate the age group when millions of people in poorer countries are still waiting to be vaccinated.
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.’
He added: ‘Vaccinating children will reduce the spread of the virus in the population by about 20 per cent.’
Mr Zahawi told Times Radio yesterday that children would be able to get the Covid vaccine without their parents’ consent if the jabs are offered to 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.’
The minister 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.
Britain’s chief medical officers are set to decide whether the country’s four million 12 to 15-year-olds should be offered Covid jabs by Friday, reports The Mirror.
Whitehall sources said ministers would then ‘press the button’ on rolling out the jab for the age group as quickly as possible.
The NHS was told to have plans ready to inoculate the age group from two weeks ago.
War over jabs for kids: Sajid Javid orders medical experts to examine ‘broader’ case for giving vaccines to children after JCVI decides NOT to recommend Covid jabs for healthy children aged 12 to 15 because the virus poses such a low risk to them
Sajid Javid suggested that ministers plan to press on with Covid vaccinations for children today despite the Government’s jab experts deciding a mass rollout was not needed.
The Health Secretary and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have asked their chief medical officers to examine the ‘broader’ benefits of such a scheme, after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s decision.
It came as scientists and ministers clashed over whether the UK should be routinely vaccinating children against Covid.
The JCVI resisted growing pressure from senior ministers and scientists who urged it to follow the likes of the US, France, Spain, Italy, Canada, and the Netherlands, which are pressing ahead with the move.
The scientists said the virus posed such a low risk to children aged between 12 and 15 that the benefit to their health of immunisation would be marginal.
However, the JCVI has told the Government to seek advice from elsewhere to determine whether a mass rollout in schools would have wider benefits, such as keeping classrooms open and avoiding future lockdowns.
The UK’s four chief medical officers will spend the next week weighing up whether vaccinating secondary school-aged children will have a broader benefit on society.
The ultimate decision for vaccinating children will lie with their parents and guardians, meaning they face a difficult choice if the Government decides to roll out the vaccine nationwide.
Mr Javid said: ‘Along with health ministers across the four nations, I have today written to the Chief Medical Officers to ask that they consider the vaccination of 12 to 15 year olds from a broader perspective, as suggested by the JCVI.
‘We will then consider the advice from the Chief Medical Officers, building on the advice from the JCVI, before making a decision shortly.’
The review will not consider any benefits adults may experience due to having children vaccinated, but will instead focus on areas outside the JCVI’s remit, such as lost education time due to Covid-related absences, either through sickness or being sent home from school.
A decision is not expected for several days.
Britain’s Covid outbreak continued to grow today as another 42,076 infections were registered, up nearly 11 per cent on last Friday. There were also another 121 Covid deaths, a 21 per cent jump in a week.
This graph shows the number of first doses dished out by age group. The NHS publishes age groups as periods of five years, and groups all those under 18 together. It shows more than 620,000 have already been inoculated among under-18s
Latest estimates from a symptom-tracking app suggested under-18s had the second highest number of Covid cases in the country (blue line). Only 18 to 35-year-olds had a higher number of Covid cases (orange line). That is despite schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland only starting to go back this week. The data is from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study
Latest Public Health England data showed Covid cases are rising fastest among 10 to 19-year-olds (grey line) and 20 to 29-year-olds (green line). Approving Covid vaccines for 12 to 15-year-olds would likely help curb the spread of the virus in the age group, scientists in favour of the move add
It came as official data showed Scotland’s weekly Covid cases have nearly trebled in the fortnight after schools went back after summer there There are fears the rest of the UK will be hit with a similar bang in cases now that classes are resuming this week
Scientists were at war over vaccinating children against Covid today. Professor David Livermore (left) says it is ‘plausible’ that immunity from natural infection could last longer for children. Dr Simon Clarke (right) said he would have no issue with children being vaccinated providing consent was sought from their parents. Some experts have said that vaccinating children will help avoid disruption to their education
Which 12 to 15-year-olds will now be offered a Covid vaccine?
Healthy children under the age of 16 do not need to be vaccinated against Covid, the Government’s vaccine advisory panel ruled today.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the virus posed such a low risk to 12 to 15-year-olds that the benefit of vaccination to their health would be marginal.
But they did recommend the jabs for 200,000 more children with chronic conditions that put them at greater risk from Covid. A total of 350,000 children aged 12 to 15 are now eligible for the vaccine.
Children aged 12 to 15 who have the following conditions can now get a Covid vaccine:
- Haematological malignancy;
- Sickle cell disease;
- Type 1 diabetes;
- Congenital heart disease;
- Other health conditions such as poorly controlled asthma that mean a child is considered to be part of the ‘Covid clinical risk group’.
The JCVI did recommend the jabs for 200,000 more children with chronic heart, kidney, lung and neurological conditions in that age group. A total of 350,000 children aged 12 to 15 are now eligible for the vaccine.
The expert panel 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.
The JCVI said it had investigated the extremely rare events of inflammation of the heart muscle, known as myocarditis, after Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
While the condition can result in short periods of hospital observation, followed by typically swift recoveries, the JCVI has concluded the medium to long-term outcomes are still uncertain and more follow-up time is needed to get a clearer picture.
The decision comes exactly a week after the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed preparations were under way to ensure the NHS was ready to offer coronavirus jabs to all 12 to 15-year-olds in England from early September.
The department had said it wanted to be ‘ready to hit the ground running’.
On Thursday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he felt parents would find it ‘deeply reassuring’ to have a choice of whether their children should have a jab or not, adding that many people hoped they would be in a position ‘of being able to roll out vaccinations for those who are under the age of 16’.
The Government has said if all 12 to 15-year-olds were to be offered a vaccine, parental or carer consent will be sought as it is in other school immunisation programmes.
Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann said he agrees the issue of a wider rollout ‘warrants further consideration’.
He said: ‘It is entirely appropriate that our most senior medical advisers take forward this piece of work urgently. I look forward to seeing their considerations in the near future.’
Which countries are already offering jabs to 12 to 15-year-olds?
The JCVI has resisted calls to recommend vaccines for healthy under-16s.
While the move will irk Government ministers who were keen to go ahead with the plans to keep infection rates in schools low, some scientists applauded the panel for not bowing to political pressure and ‘following the science’.
But the country is at risk of becoming an international outlier as many other western nations have already started jabbing children. They include:
- Denmark, from August
- France, from June 15
- Parts of Germany, from August
- Israel, from June 6
- Italy, from August 11
- The Netherlands, from July
- Norway, from September
- Poland, from June
- Parts of Spain, from August
- Sweden, from August
- Switzerland, from July
- The US, from May 10
Welsh Government Health Minister Eluned Morgan said she had asked the country’s chief medical officer ‘to provide guidance at the earliest opportunity on the clinical and wider health benefits of vaccinating this age group’, while Scottish Health Minister Humza Yousaf said he had asked for the review to be conducted ‘as soon as possible’.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said he is disappointed by the JCVI decision not to recommend jabs for all 12 to 15-year-olds.
He added that while they respect it, it could mean it is ‘more difficult during the autumn term and beyond to guard against educational disruption caused by transmission of the virus’.
He said: ‘We are therefore pleased that the door appears to have been left at least partially open as the government looks at wider issues including disruption to schools. The trouble is that time is pressing, the autumn term is upon us and we really do need a decision.’
Scottish Health Minister Humza Yousaf said: ‘I have agreed with the other three UK Health Ministers to write a letter asking the four Chief Medical Officers to consider this latest guidance and explore whether there is additional evidence to suggest it would be beneficial to offer vaccination to all 12 – 15 year olds.
‘We have asked for this further work to be conducted as soon as possible.’
The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, has asked the NHS to put preparations in place to roll out vaccinations to 12 to 15 year olds, should it be recommended by the Chief Medical Officers.
If this group is offered the vaccine, parental or carer consent will be sought, just as with other school immunisation programmes.
The vaccination programme has so far provided protection to over 48 million people over the age of 16 across the UK – including over 48 million first doses and over 43 million second doses.
The latest data from Public Health England and Cambridge University shows vaccines have saved more than 105,000 lives and prevented 143,600 hospitalisations and 24 million cases in England.
Senior ministers were said to be increasingly embittered at the failure of Government experts to authorise the rollout of Covid vaccines to under-16s ahead of the decision from the JCVI.
A Whitehall source said there was ‘palpable frustration’ among Government figures with the JCVI. Both Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Sajid Javid are said to be keen to get on with vaccinating school children.
Scientists were at war over vaccinating children against Covid today. Professor David Livermore (left) says it is ‘plausible’ that immunity from natural infection could last longer for children but Professor Devi Sridhar (right) says the virus could rip through the country again
Ministers fear the new academic year will trigger a fresh wave of the virus in classrooms. This means that without a jab, children could face more disruption to their education throughout autumn and winter.
Last night one Whitehall source admitted: ‘There is palpable frustration that this is taking so long. The jabs have been approved for months, other countries have been doing it safely for months – we are becoming an outlier.
In the meantime, we have missed the window of opportunity in the summer and the schools are going back.’
Meanwhile, in a clear sign of the enthusiasm for the jab among teenagers, figures showed half of 16- and 17-year-olds have already had a vaccine dose in just four weeks.
Scientists and ministers were at war today over whether the UK should be routinely vaccinating children against Covid ahead of the announcement from the JCVI.
Professor Hunter said today he was against vaccinating children, although he had faith that whatever decision the JCVI comes to will have been the most informed.
He told MailOnline: ‘The issue around whether we should be vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds is whether there is enough vaccine to go around people who are vulnerable worldwide.’
Professor Hunter added that as the direct benefit of vaccines to children was small because Covid is a mild illness for the overwhelming majority of them.
He said he would prefer to see the doses shipped to developing nations which are struggling to get first doses to vulnerable people.
And he raised doubts about whether it was ethical to vaccinate children against a mild disease in the first place.
‘If we are going to be vaccinating these children it has got to be in their interest, not in ours,’ he said.
‘It is one thing to say have a vaccine to protect your health, but quite another thing to persuade you to have a vaccine to protect my health. One is entirely ethical and the other is dubious.’
Professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, said last week that the world will need to live with Covid for years if not decades — so having a generation of children with natural immunity would help prevent cases spiralling later down the line.
He said natural infection could be a ‘a better first step in the lifelong co-existence’ with the virus than rolling out the jabs.
He added: ‘There is no direct reason to vaccinate children and adolescents against Covid. They are extremely unlikely to suffer severe disease if infected.
‘Rare but serious side effects have been associated with the vaccines, including blood clots and myocarditis. For older adults and the vulnerable, these are small hazards compared with those from Covid infection, and being vaccinated is obviously prudent.
‘But for children the risk/benefit ratio is far less clear, and may reverse. The JCVI initially were against vaccinating children on this logic and have provided no clear reason for a change of view.
‘Taking these three points together I can see no good reason to vaccinate under-18s, let alone 12-year-olds.’
But the move to jab healthy kids for Covid has been backed by several experts who warn that letting the virus rip through schools could result in more disruptions to education and force lockdown restrictions to be rolled back.
Dr Clarke told MailOnline: ‘As long as the data that exists is that there is no greater harm from giving children jabs then children should get vaccinated, with the caveat that there is parental choice.
‘There have been suggestions that the Americans, the Irish, care less about their children than we do — of course they don’t. They are very sensitive about this issue as well.
‘I see no evidence that there is a problem with vaccinating children.’
He said the decision not to inoculate children before they returned to school was a ‘missed window of opportunity’ because the jabs could have reduced transmission of the virus.
Britain has been accused of being sluggish to roll out the Covid vaccine to other age groups, as its vaccination drive fell behind other countries.
US regulators approved Pfizer’s jab for 12 to 15-year-olds in May, and has already got at least one dose to 40 per cent (7million) of the age group.
The EU’s regulator also gave the age group the green light to get the jab at the end of May, with many countries quick to start rolling it out.
France began inoculating 12 to 15-year-olds in June, and more than 40 per cent (2million) have already received a first dose.
Italy started rolling out jabs to the age group from July with the aim of inoculating them before schools return. The Netherlands also began rolling out the jabs to secondary school children in July.