No right or wrong answer on jabbing healthy 12 to 15-year-olds, says expert

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the “finely balanced” decision on vaccinating healthy 12 to 15-year-olds against coronavirus, an expert advising on jabs has said.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)’s deputy chairman acknowledged there could be a level of discomfort for parents if the Government says yes to offering vaccines to this age group, after the committee decided against recommending a mass rollout on health grounds alone.

Professor Anthony Harnden said that by providing all the data for parents and teenagers to see, they are “giving choice” on the matter.

On Friday, the committee said that while the health benefits from vaccination are “marginally greater than the potential known harms”, the benefit is considered too small to support universal vaccination, and noted the low risk Covid-19 presents to younger teenagers.

But Professor Chris Whitty and the three other chief medical officers in the UK are now reviewing the wider benefits of vaccinating the age group, such as minimising school absences, and are expected to present their findings within days.

The Government is awaiting their advice before making a final decision but ministers have indicated they are keen to authorise a wider rollout.

Prof Harnden 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.”

When it was suggested to him that parents will want a clear answer on the issue, he said: “Unfortunately, we don’t live in a clear world and that’s the problem.”

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Dr David Strain, clinical lead for Covid services at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, said vaccinating children would reduce the spread of the virus in the population by about 20% and that he would have “no hesitation at all” in allowing his children to have a Covid-19 jab.

While he accepts it is a “fine balance”, he said vaccinating children could help in a number of ways.

He told Good Morning Britain: “It’s also good for the children to be able to stay at school without repetitive closures.

“It’s good to have two parents and a full set of grandparents and all of those additional elements that the vaccination of the children will have a role in maintaining.”

The JCVI also noted the association between Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and extremely rare events of inflammation of the heart muscle, known as myocarditis.

While the condition can result in short periods of hospital observation, followed by typically swift recoveries, the committee concluded that the medium to long-term outcomes are still uncertain and more follow-up time is needed to get a clearer picture.

Dr Strain said as a parent he had “weighed up the evidence” and accepted the very small risk of myocarditis, but added: “Actually the risk of myocarditis after getting Covid is about the same, if not slightly higher.”

The Department of Health has said parents of healthy 12 to 15-year-olds will be asked for consent if coronavirus jabs are approved for their children, as with other immunisation programmes.

But vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said children in this age group could override their parents’ wishes “if they’re deemed to be competent to make that decision, with all the information available”.

Dr Strain, who is co-chair of British Medical Association’s medical academic staff committee, 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.”

On Friday, the JCVI approved a widening of the vaccination programme to another 200,000 children aged between 12 and 15 who have underlying health conditions.