Why is the UK not Covid-19 vaccinating children?
COVID-19 lots of controversy around at the moment about whether we vaccinate children or not. The UK has elected not to go down this path. Other countries have. So how did the UK come to the decision that they have?
Public health expert Linda Bauld filled in Chris Smith on answer, and answered a question about long COVID from exercise expert Dan Gordon...
Linda - Well, we have the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which is a group of independent scientists, clinicians, and other experts who guide the government and what the NHS does in relation to immunisation and vaccination. So we have a medicines regulator that has approved the vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds on the basis of a trial done in the US involving over 2000 young people. And this is just one vaccine, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. But the JCVI have decided that at the current time, they're only going to recommend it for particular groups of children, about 370,000 of them in the UK. And these are the kids who are most at risk from COVID-19. So they might have an immune system that is not functioning as fully as it should. They may have severe learning difficulties, for example, or a range of other conditions. So they're going to vaccinate those young people between 12 and 15, children who already have those conditions between 16 and 17 are already eligible. But they're also interestingly going to offer the vaccine to those children who live with people whose immune system is compromised. For example, they might've had cancer treatment, which meant that the parents took drugs to deal with the cancer, which affected their immune system. Internationally this will be controversial. Canada, the USA, and Algeria was the first country, Israel, some countries in Europe are already vaccinating teenagers. I think the rationale is risk-benefit. They're saying there may be some signals that there may be some very small risks from this vaccine to younger people, but because the risks of becoming unwell with COVID-19 are so tiny for this age group of children, that those risks might in some circumstances outweigh the benefits. I think we'll have to see how this goes. It's great these kids are going to get as soon, but in the longer term, we want to reach what we call population immunity, particularly when we have more transmissible variants like the Delta, we may actually need to vaccinate teenagers in the future because we know they can pick up the virus and we know that they can pass it on.
Chris - Dan?
Dan - What is the evidence about long COVID? There seems to be this evidence suggesting that actually, children are perhaps more susceptible to long COVID and therefore is the necessity then perhaps to vaccinated against that?
Linda - They're not more susceptible to long COVID, they can develop long COVID. But if you look at the studies that have been done, we're starting to get population-level evidence on the incidence of long COVID which is often defined as having symptoms beyond 12 weeks beyond having a positive test. So not less likely, it's actually age-related as well with long COVID. You could see that people over the age of 50 are more likely to develop it than younger people, but younger adults in particular. And we estimate about 1 in 6 people in their 20s who've had COVID-19 might have long COVID. So kids are less at risk, but they're not, you know, protected from long COVID, there may be small numbers to still get that.