On July 19, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended that specific groups of children aged 12 to 15 should be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That included children with severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression, and multiple or severe learning disabilities. It also included children who live with a severe immunosuppressed person.
On August 4, the JCVI recommended that all 16 and 17 year olds should be offered the Pfizer vaccine. The Medicines and Health Regulatory Authority (MHRA) had previously authorised the use of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12-15, stating that it was “safe and effective in this age group”.
On September 3, the JCVI recommended that additional children aged 12-15 with underlying health conditions including haematological malignancy, sickle cell disease, type 1 diabetes, and congenital heart disease should be offered the vaccine. They did not recommend a roll out to all 12 to 15 year olds as they said on health grounds, “the benefits from vaccination alone were marginally greater than the potential known harms” but suggested governments seek advice from their Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) on wider issues around Covid-19, such as the disruption to schools.
Today, September 13, the four UK CMOs have recommended that 12 to15 year olds should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. They have based that decision solely on an assessment of risk and benefit to 12 to 15 year olds, not on any wider public health benefits. They have asked the JCVI to consider whether second doses should be given once more international data is available.
Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Bruce Adamson, said: “We welcome the advice to offer the vaccine to children between the age of 12 and 15. It is important to give them that choice.
“The JCVI had an important role in balancing the health risks of Covid-19 against the risks of the vaccine but the UK Chief Medical Officers have also considered the wider issues around Covid including the impact on children’s rights, such as their right to education.
“As part of the World Health Organization’s Technical Advisory Group on Schooling During Covid-19, we have consistently called for further evidence to ascertain the optimum set of mitigation strategies, including vaccination of children, that would achieve the full range of health, social, and educational aspirations for the entire population, particularly children.”
The Commissioner said: “Children and young people have a right to the best possible health, that’s not just about protection from the Covid virus itself, but also the impact on their mental health due to isolation and other factors. The pandemic has impacted their right to education, their right to play, their right to see wider family and friends which is so essential to their development. Their education has been disrupted with two long periods of school closures. Even when schools are open, some children have faced periods of self-isolation if they were deemed close contacts or indeed caught the virus.
“It is important that children are supported to make informed decisions about their own health. Children of this age group have told me over the last few months that they are in favour of having the choice to be vaccinated. That is not to say that all of them had made a decision about whether they would get a vaccine, but they wanted the option to be available to them. They don’t want any more disruption to their education and they want the option of vaccination to be part their consideration about how to protect their own health, as well as the health of those around them. Of course, there have been some children who are concerned about the vaccination, or who told me about parental concerns. It is important that there is no stigma attached to the choices that children make about vaccination.
“It is essential that this decision is communicated directly to 12 to 15 year olds in a child-friendly way so they can understand why they are now being offered the vaccine, and can have any questions they might have answered in a way they can understand. Children have the right to access appropriate information on decisions affecting them.
“Parents and carers will play an important role in supporting the decision-making around whether a child chooses to get vaccinated so it is important that they have all of the necessary information to support that choice.
“In two weeks’ time, the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children will hold our annual conference online along with our Young Advisers. This year’s theme is Covid-19 and the voices and experiences of the Young Advisers will sit at the heart of the recommendations. Many of the countries across Europe have been making vaccination available to this age group already, so we have been learning from their experiences.
“Regardless of this vaccine offer to 12-15 years olds, it is important to remember that reducing the impact of Covid relies heavily on adults getting vaccinated and continuing to follow guidance on social distancing, wearing face coverings and other mitigations. Children have made countless sacrifices over the last 18 months and their rights have been significantly affected. Adults must continue to play their part in reducing the impact of Covid.”