One of the UK’s leading childhood health experts has said there is not enough evidence to support vaccinating children against Covid, and the body that will make the decision on whether to jab under-18s has indicated it will take a cautious approach.
Prof Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said there was “rock-solid data” to show that the risk of severe harm to children from Covid was “incredibly low”.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast in a personal capacity, he said not enough was yet known about possible damaging side-effects if children were given Covid jabs.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been given approval by the UK medicines regulator for children aged 12-15, and it is being administered for these age groups in the US and Israel.
Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said it would decide within weeks whether to allow children to be vaccinated.
“JCVI are very aware of the issues surrounding both the pros and the cons of vaccinating their children, which we will talk about it in due course, but actually what we need to be absolutely sure is that these vaccines benefit children in some way … so we are looking at this data very carefully,” Harnden told BBC Radio 4 Today’s programme.
He added: “Clearly we’re going to have to make a view on it over the forthcoming weeks.”
Semple said: “There’s very nuanced debate going on here, but at the moment I don’t think there’s enough evidence to support vaccinating children.
“We’ve looked really carefully at Sars-Cov infection in children in the second wave and the first wave, so we’ve got really rock-solid data, and the risks of severe disease, and even the risk of long Covid and multi-inflammatory syndrome, are incredibly low.”
He added: “Vaccines are safe, but not entirely risk free. We are aware in adults about clots, and there’s some safety data from America showing rare heart problems associated with some of the vaccines. So until that data is really complete for children. I’m not persuaded that the risk benefit for children has been clarified.”
Semple, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, suggested there was not enough data available for the JCVI to approve vaccinating children.
“I’m not convinced that the evidence base there is strong enough to support vaccination of children, because we don’t have complete safety data for the vaccines that we would want to use,” he said.
Harnden said the JCVI was very concerned about a flu outbreak this winter, as he confirmed that flu and Covid booster jabs may be given to people at the same time.
He said: “It makes a lot of sense to try and administer operationally both vaccines at the same time, if we are able to do so. We’re very, very worried on JCVI about flu this year because there’s likely to be much more fluid circulation, because of the low flu levels last winter. So we’re really, really keen that as many people take up the flu vaccine, of those eligible, as possible.”