People under the age of 18 should not be vaccinated against Covid-19 until more is known about the potential risks, health experts have warned.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is reportedly advising the UK Government against a vaccination campaign for youngsters, saying the jab should not yet be recommended for children.
The warning comes after Professor Christ Whitty said officials are weighing up the benefits of vaccinating school children, due to the disruption the pandemic has caused to their education.
Will under 18s be vaccinated?
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has already approved the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for use among children aged 12 and over in the UK.
However, officials are still yet to confirm whether the vaccination programme will be extended to children and young people once the adult vaccine campaign is complete.
The issue has come under scrutiny by academics, with some arguing that the UK should follow the the strategy of the United States and Israel by starting to vaccinate children to help prevent outbreaks in schools.
On the other side of the debate, others have questioned the ethics of offering vaccines to children when it would have little clinical benefit.
A member of the scientific advisory group Sage said that the chance of children dying from Covid-19 are “one in a million”, and so extending the programme would be of little benefit.
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The risk of death is one in a million. That’s not a figure and plucking from the air, that’s a quantifiable risk.
“We know in wave one and wave two put together there were 12 deaths in children – in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, put together – and that is rare because there are about 13 to 14 million children in the UK.
“So we’re talking about vaccinating children here mainly to protect public health and reduce transmission.
“And it’s accepted that teenagers who are biologically more like adults are more likely to transmit. But younger children really are not – they are about a half to a third less likely to acquire the virus and similarly to pass it on.
“So we’re now coming into a really interesting ethical and moral debate here about vaccinating children for the benefit of others.”
Should vulnerable people be vaccinated first?
As children are unlikely to become severely ill from Covid-19, health experts are questioning if it is right to vaccinate under 18s when there are still millions of vulnerable people around the world still yet to receive a jab.
One of the scientists behind the AstraZeneca vaccine has said that children should not be inoculated against Covid-19 ahead of vulnerable people in other countries, who are at significantly greater risk of severe illness.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday (15 June): “At the moment, the children themselves are at relatively low risk of serious infection. Then the second question is when to vaccinate children.
“And my view is that we really ought to be using those doses, at this moment, for people in low and middle income countries who are at the greatest risk of severe disease.
“(We should) consider the ‘when’ after the rest of the world’s most vulnerable have been protected.”
When will a decision be made?
Cabinet minister Liz Truss has said the Government will make an announcement on vaccinating under 18s soon, adding that ministers will look very closely at the recommendations from the JCVI.
It is expected that a statement could be released by the committee by the end of the week.
The Trade Secretary told BBC Breakfast: “Of course the Government will look very closely at the JCVI’s recommendations.
“It is my understanding that they are not recommending the vaccination of under-18s and we will be saying more in due course about that.”
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