The UK vaccine has been hailed an unprecedented success, helping dodge an estimated 24 million infections and 112,000 deaths – yet it hasn’t been short of hurdles. Having decided that the stakes are high enough, the JCVI has recommended that all children receive a first dose of the vaccine in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19 in schools. However, the decision to push ahead with vaccinations for youngsters was met with an uproar of emotion, with some scientists insisting children would be better off building immunity through natural infection.
It was confirmed yesterday that three million children aged between 12 and 15 would be able to receive a first dose of the vaccine from next week.
The UK’s four chief medical officers have recommended vaccines for children in a bid to help reduce transmission of the virus in schools.
They said: “COVID-19 is a disease which can be very effectively transmitted by mass spreading events, especially with the Delta variant.
“Having a significant proportion of pupils vaccinated is likely to reduce the probability of such events which are likely to cause local outbreaks in, or associated with, schools.
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“They will also reduce the chance an individual child will get COVID-19. This means vaccination is likely to reduce (but not eliminate) education disruption.”
The JCVI had previously argued that the benefits gained from vaccinating children would only be marginal since the virus did not pose substantial enough risk.
In response to the JCVI’s decision, professor David Livermore, microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, told Mailonline: “I think what’s been done is really pointless.
It is a bad use of vaccine.“Children are at very, very low risk of severe infection and would really be better off just building better immunity to the virus through infection as we do to a score of other circulating viruses.
“Vaccinating children has been justified not to protect children from severe infection, but so schools can be kept open. This is based on a false premise.
School here should not have been closed at all.”The JCVI has previously recommended the vaccine for children with conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus.
It had argued at the time that the stakes are much lower for healthy children.
It estimates that for every million first doses administered to healthy children, that about 90 hospitalisations and two intensive care visits will be prevented.
In response to concerns over the potential side effects of the vaccine, notably myocarditis – a condition where the heart become inflamed – the JCVI said that between 12 and 34 people per million – or fewer than 100 for the entire population of 12-15 years olds – would suffer the condition after their second dose.
It comes as the health watchdog has recommended a booster shot of Pfizer/BioNTech for over-50s in the UK.
The boosters will be offered to all individuals aged over 50 and vulnerable groups, regardless of the vaccines they received the first time around.
The decision comes ahead of the autumn and winter months, when rates of infection are expected to skyrocket.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said the UK’s vaccination programme had so far prevented an estimated 24 million COVID-19 infections and 112,000 deaths.
He said: “We know that this winter could quite possibly be bumpy at times and we know that other respiratory viruses such as flu and RSV are highly likely to make their returns.
“With all that in mind the mantra, if you live, is to stay on top of things.
“We want to live our lives as normally as possible from now on, and want a normal winter life, and a high uptake of the booster programme will give us a much increased chance of doing that.”