Children ‘may need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity’

Children may need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 so that the UK population can reach herd immunity, according to an adviser to the Government’s vaccine taskforce.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use among children aged 12 and over but the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is yet to decide whether they should receive it.

The UK’s vaccination programme is only open to adults, and some children in exceptional circumstances, and so far 62.4% of the adult population have been fully vaccinated.

Across the whole population, 49.2% of people are double-jabbed.

Covid-19 vaccine doses in the UK
(PA Graphics)

Experts are divided on whether children should be vaccinated, given that the risk to themselves from Covid-19 is low.

Professor Jeffrey Almond told Sky News that jabs for young people could be needed to reach the benchmark for herd immunity.

“At the start of this we reckoned that you needed somewhere around 65% to 70% of the whole population to be immune in order to have that herd immunity which prevents the virus spreading,” he said.

“Because, with 80% of the adult population (vaccinated), if that only represents 50% of the whole population, we’re still too low to prevent the virus spreading and it will spread in kids.

“So, I’m in favour, if we can and when we can, of vaccinating children as well so that the whole population is immune to the point where the virus can no longer circulate.”

His comments were echoed by Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of Independent Sage, who said there was a clear case for vaccinating children.

He told Times Radio: “I think people in the JCVI, who are looking at this from the perspective of the individual child and looking at the risk/benefit balance, are less enthusiastic about vaccinating children, but I’m a public health physician. From a population perspective, it’s very clear that we have to vaccinate children.”

However, Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, expressed his reservations about vaccinating children.

He told BBC Breakfast: “The risk of severe harm to children (from Covid) is incredibly low. Vaccines are safe, but not entirely risk-free.

“I’m not convinced the evidence base there is strong enough to support vaccination of children because we don’t have complete safety data for the vaccines that we would want to use.”

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK
(PA Graphics)

Elsewhere, Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the JCVI, suggested that a decision on vaccinating children will be made in the “forthcoming weeks”.

Prof Semple also said additional symptoms found in people in their 20s and 30s, such as fatigue, headaches, a sore throat and diarrhoea, should be added to the Government’s list of Covid symptoms.

He told BBC Breakfast: “As older people are vaccinated, proportionally more younger people are having disease and they have a different group of symptoms.

“By extending the symptom list, we think we’ll pick up about a third more cases. But, more importantly, we’ll pick them up a day earlier and that offers greater opportunity to break transmission chains and stop further spread of the virus.”

He added that the challenge is to make sure people are getting the “right” test for their symptoms but also encouraged anyone who is feeling unwell with any of the coronavirus symptoms to get tested.

“We don’t want to overwhelm the PCR testing; we probably want to encourage more people to do lateral flow testing in the community, and then get a PCR to confirm it,” he said.