Bella Wallersteiner works as Senior Parliamentary Assistant for a Conservative MP.
Just a few weeks ago, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended that children over the age of 12 should only be vaccinated if they were extremely vulnerable or lived with someone at risk, citing fears about an inflammatory heart condition connected to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Now the NHS has put together plans to offer Covid vaccines to children as young as 12 when schools return next week as scientists warn that the virus will ‘rip through schools’ unless pupils are immunised.
Countries such as the America, Israel, France and Germany have all recommended the vaccination of over-12s. The UK’s medicines regulator, MHRA, approved the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab for over-12s in early June, but reports of rare instances of myocarditis, an inflammatory heart condition linked to the vaccine, impelled the JCVI to recommend vaccinating only vulnerable children in the UK.
Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at Bristol University and a JCVI member, said that there is “incontrovertible evidence” that heart inflammation is a genuine concern for young people.
We should take these concerns seriously, since Covid-19 presents a negligible threat to the health of non-vaccinated young people and children. Comparisons with other vaccination programmes like polio, typhus and diphtheria are specious because these illnesses are direct health threats to children which need to be combatted. The UK’s childhood immunisation schedule has been designed to give early protection against infections that are most perilous for the very young.
New research from King’s College London shows that the small number of children who do become ill from Covid-19 rarely have long-term symptoms, with the majority recovering in less than a week. Should we really be inoculating children for the benefit of others who are more vulnerable to the virus? This is reminiscent of the moral dilemma given to machine intelligence such as self-driving cars, when they must choose between the lesser of two evils; such as killing two passengers or five pedestrians. Who are we to decide which outcome is more acceptable? Scientists are no better at navigating the moral maze than philosophers and ethicists.
The Covid vaccine protects those who are most vulnerable from serious illness and death. It does not to prevent transmission of the virus, nor does it give lifelong immunity. Recent data from the ZOE Covid Study app shows fully vaccinated people now make up nearly 30 per cent of Covid cases. All of us, unvaccinated or vaccinated, should expect to be infected with Covid repeatedly during our lifetimes. Vaccinating children will not get us to the promised land of herd immunity and it may well compromise children’s immuno-response systems.
Another issue is vaccine supply: while the UK has millions of doses in place and on order, many developing nations have limited supply and have not even vaccinated the most vulnerable people in their population. Of the billions of jabs that have been purchased, more than 80 per cent have gone to the richest G20 countries. While well over half of Britons are now fully vaccinated, in the Democratic Republic of Congo only 87,910 vaccines have been administered out of a population of 86.79 million. At this rate most African countries will only have vaccinated two per cent of their population by the end of September.
New studies are beginning to show that natural immunity through recovery from infection is as good as, perhaps even better, than vaccine immunity. An Israeli study conducted by Maccabi Healthcare Services compared the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine with natural immunity. The team monitored individuals double-jabbed with Pfizer who have never had Covid, unvaccinated people who have been infected, and single-jabbed people who have had the virus. They then tracked how many went on to develop symptomatic infection.
Their investigations showed that the double-jabbed, previously uninfected participants were 13 times more likely to get symptomatic Covid compared with the naturally immune. This is the largest real-world observational study to date.
As many as 40-50 per cent of children in the UK have caught Covid over the last 18 months, and the number will continue to rise when schools in England reopen next week. In Scotland, this rise in cases has already begun, and Nicola Sturgeon has issued fresh warnings about the need for a return of restrictions.
Society must now learn to live with the virus just as we have adjusted to annual outbreaks of influenza. Healthy people have memory T-cells which linger in the body after infection and B-cells are primed to create antibodies when the immune system is under attack.
Risk averse-teaching unions have pushed for all young people to be offered a vaccine to minimise further disruption to education after three lockdowns. We have already controlled children’s behaviour enough to protect adults through endless school closures, mandatory mask-wearing in class and obsessive testing – all of which has had little impact on preventing infection and has caused serious harm to children’s health and wellbeing.
We need to be alarmed when the state is proscribing vaccines that are non-efficacious for children. This is a dangerous step for any Government to be taking. After a year in which children have missed out great chunks of the curriculum and were forbidden from seeing their friends, pushing them into taking a jab is a perverse strategy.
The state must now do what is right for children and prioritise their wellbeing and mental health. The willingness of parents to comply may be stretched to breaking point if the Government continues to take on the role of U.K. super-nanny. In November 2020, Matt Hancock promised to ‘cry freedom’ when the most vulnerable were vaccinated.
But now, with a remarkable 77.4 per cdnt of UK adults fully vaccinated, crying freedom seems to have been pushed back until every child has been fully immunised. Covid-19 is a terrible illness for the elderly and vulnerable.
The risk of dying from Covid-19 is extremely dependent on age: it halves for each six to seven year age gap. If the tables were turned and coronavirus was an illness which struck down the young, there would be no question that society would compel everyone to take every measure to protect them. The Government urgently needs to come up with a new social contract for children. What is the duty of a child to society? Does a child have a moral obligation to protect an older person? It could be argued that moral and ethical conundrums such as these should be determined by the individual and not the state.