COVID-19: ‘Really close call’ on whether to vaccinate children, SAGE adviser says

The question of whether or not children should be vaccinated against coronavirus is a “really close call”, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has told Sky News.

Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, said children were at “much less risk of severe disease”.

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He said if a decision was taken to inoculate them against COVID-19, it would be to “reduce transmission in the community, rather than primarily to protect them”.

“We’ve still got a much greater impetus to vaccinate the adult population, particularly those sectors of the adult community which are harder to reach, are hesitant about being vaccinated,” he said.

“An ethical and moral question could then be raised that, if we then have vaccine left over, it would still be better to probably send it to other countries where they are in greater need of the vaccine and where more lives are likely to be saved by it.

“So it’s a really close call as well.”

And Professor Semple said that because of that low risk, the safety data about giving jabs to children needs to be “incredibly robust”.

“The knowledge around safety in children is growing, but I would say it’s not as robust as it needs to be if there was to be blanket vaccination of children who themselves are not at risk of very severe disease,” he said.

“That’s the crux of the matter.

“If you are going to vaccinate children to protect society, that is a fair decision that can be made, but you want to do that with full knowledge of the safety data.”

Professor Semple said vaccinating children in order to protect vulnerable adults or stop the virus spreading in the classroom was a “really good argument” in favour of it.

“If there was a situation where the government was to say that after two doses there would no longer be a need to isolate with symptoms, then double vaccination or evidence of double vaccination could open education up and prevent whole classes being sent home,” he said.

“Remember, this winter we’re going to have all the other usual respiratory viruses out there causing misery and they will be the cause of it, not necessarily COVID.

“So, if you go purely on a crude symptom-based approach, you’re going to have lots more people isolating unnecessarily. So, the presence of double vaccination could mitigate against that.

“On the other side of the coin, though, the safety data for younger children is currently incomplete and we are waiting for more information to come out of countries which have vaccinated children, such as America.”

There has been no confirmation that the vaccination programme will be extended to children once the vaccine has been rolled out to adults.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is set to advise whether routine vaccination should be offered to those aged 12 to 17.

Earlier this month, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds.

The jab was approved for use in the UK for 16 and 17-year-olds in December.

The JCVI’s current advice is that those aged 16-18 should be offered vaccination if they are in a priority Phase 1 group or they are the household contacts of someone who is immunosuppressed.

“The advice would come from the JCVI in the first instance, they haven’t made any comments on that at this stage,” Boris Johnson’s spokesman said last week.

“We await a recommendation from the JCVI following the MHRA’s decision… we constantly followed the JCVI advice on prioritisation so we await that recommendation.”

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