Acting in the best interests of our precious children
Last September, the JCVI - the committee responsible for advising the Government on immunisations - decided not to recommend a child vaccination programme due to concerns over rare but potentially serious side effects. But the Government referred the matter to the Chief Medical Officer to consider any ‘wider benefits’ and the programme was given the go ahead.
It was made clear that both the benefits and risks of COVID vaccination to children were tiny, but whether or not it was right to push ahead then, the facts have changed.
When the decision was made, Delta was the dominant variant and one dose of the vaccine reduced transmission of COVID. Now that Omicron is dominant, vaccination appears to have less impact on reducing transmission, shrinking the potential benefits of vaccinating children. And four months on, more evidence is emerging about the likelihood of serious side effects such as myocarditis (swelling of the heart), which studies show could occur more frequently than previously thought. Any marginal benefits to vaccinating children may have disappeared altogether.
That’s why I and a group of MPs, Peers, academics and doctors have written to the JCVI, urging them to review the data and update their recommendations accordingly.
I know that as soon as this paper hits the newsstands I’ll start receiving emails accusing me of being ‘anti-vax’ or of eroding confidence in our (genuinely) world-beating vaccination programme.
Let me be clear; I’m a huge supporter of vaccination. As a science teacher I taught numerous students about British vaccine pioneer Edward Jenner, and how immunisation has brought astonishing improvements in public health over the last two centuries.
But just as it would be foolish to say that vaccinations don’t work, it’s also foolish to say that they never cause harm. All medicines come with risks and like any medical intervention, vaccines should only be approved when they can be shown to do more good than harm.
This is overwhelmingly the case with immunisations for diseases like measles and meningitis, and for COVID vaccinations for the elderly and vulnerable and those who are most at risk. But with children, for whom the COVID risk is almost zero, the risks of vaccination have to be astonishingly small for the programme to be justified. That’s not anti-vax; it’s common sense.
Our children have over half a century of healthy life expectancy ahead of them and it is our duty to ensure that we do not put that health at risk unnecessarily. It’s time to take a step back and calmly assess the latest evidence so that we make absolutely sure we’re acting in the best interests of our precious children.