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Ministers seek further evidence on Covid-19 vaccinations for children

Chief Medical Officers asked to advise on controversial issue as government advisers say no

Health ministers have called on the UK’s most senior medics to weigh in on the increasingly controversial question of Covid-19 vaccinations for children.

The call comes after government advisers on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised against such vaccinations at the moment.

“The JCVI’s view is that overall, the health benefits from Covid-19 vaccination to healthy children aged 12 to 15 years are marginally greater than the potential harms,” said Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid-19 immunisation for the JCVI, on 3 September. “Taking a precautionary approach, this margin of benefit is considered too small to support universal Covid-19 vaccination for this age group at this time.”

On the same day, the health ministers from all four UK nations asked the chief medical officers of their nations to provide further advice from a “broader perspective” on the educational impacts of vaccination.

Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, agreed that more evidence was needed on the broader educational impacts of vaccination in children. This could include whether a reduction in mild infections and transmissions is likely to have a material impact on learning in schools and the wider community.

“This is not something that JCVI is designed to assess,” she added.

Meanwhile, some scientists have questioned the JCVI’s advice.

Long Covid

Nathalie MacDermott, an National Institute for Health Research academic clinical lecturer at King’s College London, said that while the advice was “understandable in some contexts” it was unclear why the impact of persistent symptoms, known as long Covid, appeared not to be taken into account.

“While long Covid has gained recognition greatly over the last year, we must now realise that hospitalisation and death are not the only negative outcomes following Covid-19 and it is time the risks and impact of long Covid are factored into public health decision making in relation to mitigating the long-term burden of Covid-19,” she said.

Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control, added that the decision would “disappoint many” as children of this age are “particularly socially active” and therefore more likely to spread the disease.

“Now that the much more infectious delta variant is prevalent we will struggle to control the virus with vaccination alone—and we certainly won’t succeed if this age group is unvaccinated,” he warned.