The UK vaccination program has been a huge success. The virus is spread by the unvaccinated, even though most adults are double-jabbed. This puts children, teens and schools in the spotlight. This is already evident with the infection rates increasing in adolescents and young adults (who are just starting to get vaccinated), but remaining low among the double-vaccinated elderly and middle-aged.
What should we do? What should we do? My teenage son was my in-house expert. My teenage son, who was a resident expert in my house, said he did not need a vaccine but would consider it if it helped things to go back to normal. This is just one viewpoint, but it led me to believe that we should seek the opinions of teenagers to solve our problem. It seems both puzzling as well as remiss to have their voices so few. It would be foolish to consider vaccination of other minorities without asking their opinions. Yet, almost all surveys show that parents are more likely to have the opinion than young people.
Around 40% of teens have Covid antibodies. This means they've been infected.
It is clear that coronavirus can be spread to children and teens. Although primary school children are less likely to get it, we know that around 40% of teens have Covid antibodies. This means they've been infected for at least one year. This is significant because it shows us that many people are already protected. However, it is not enough.
Most children and teens have silent Covid infection, or very few symptoms. They are unlikely to become severely ill and the chances of them dying from Covid are low. Over the first year of the pandemic, there were 30 deaths among under-18s. This gives an overall risk of two in a thousand. Children with severe disabilities or medical conditions are at greatest risk every winter, regardless of Covid.
For otherwise healthy children, the risk of suffering from Covid is close to one in two to three million. One child's death is too many. It is important to understand the context. We lost almost 2,000 children under 18 years old (excluding premature babies) every year to a variety of illnesses and accidents. In addition, an average 15 people died from influenza each year before Covid. Three benefits are associated with vaccinations for teenagers. The first is a reduction in their risk of becoming ill. The second is a reduction in the transmission to adults. The benefits of less disruption in their lives and schooling. Healthy teenagers are not likely to see any benefit from reducing their risk of getting sick. Teenagers with underlying medical conditions and disabilities have undoubtedly greater benefits. However, the risks of post Covid syndromes (also known as long Covid) in children is unknown. These should be considered. Because we have no data on the number of children with persistent symptoms, I said unknown.
Concerning reports suggest that up to 25% of the infected children have ongoing problems. This ignores the high levels of fatigue and headaches that even healthy teens have reported. We need to understand what Covid does in addition to the everyday symptoms. These data should be available soon.
The greatest benefit of vaccination for teenagers is reducing transmission to vulnerable adults. There are ethical issues about the vaccination of individuals in order to benefit others. This is why we have precedent. We vaccinate unborn children against rubella to protect mothers and their babies. To protect teenage girls from HPV, we also vaccinate them against it. However, this requires that the safety standards be extremely high.
There are two risks to vaccinating teenage children: side effects of vaccination and the use of scarce vaccine supplies that could be better used elsewhere. Pfizer and Moderna data for approximately 3,000 teens have been published. However, we do not currently have any vaccine safety data. Pfizer is now licensed to use the vaccines in the UK for teenagers. Vaccines are being offered in the USA and Europe for adults over 12.
Although rare side effects have been reported in young men in Israel and the US, most cases were mild. Myocarditis appears to be more common after vaccination with Covid than it is with vaccines. We are reminded that although the vaccine trials in teens were very positive, there will be rare side effects. This is why we need more data to understand the risks.
It is much harder to quantify other benefits and risks. What is the value of a reduction in disruptions to education?
Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation will carefully balance the risks of severe illness and deaths against the vaccine risks. These numbers are easy to calculate. The other benefits and risks, however, are harder to quantify. What is the value of a reduction in disruptions to education?
I was reminded by my conversation with my son that it is important to reduce disruptions in education and allow friends to see each other without anxiety and controls. This is especially true given the fact that the pandemic has had a severe impact on children's mental and physical health, as well as their learning opportunities.
So where am I now? I think it reasonable to offer vaccinations to teenagers who have chronic conditions or medical conditions. Let's first increase adult vaccination rates, give boosters to the elderly, and fulfill our promises to vaccine poorer countries. We should then vaccinate healthy teenagers when we have sufficient safety data, but we must wait.
Vaccination is one of the most important actions we can take to normalize children's lives and decrease the damage caused by the pandemic. It will also protect against what I perceive as a danger. This is evident in the fact that some countries now allow in vaccinated UK children and adults under 12. We cannot allow unvaccinated teens to be treated like an individual.