In Focus

Pros and cons of vaccinating teenagers: the dilemma facing parents

A recent survey found almost half were either unsure about letting their children be jabbed or firmly against

“Any parent can be forgiven for feeling perplexed, if not alarmed,” said Paul McKay in the Daily Mail. Three weeks ago, the government publicly ruled out the vaccination of healthy children. Yet now the NHS is pushing “full steam ahead” with plans to offer all 16- and 17-year-olds a dose of the Pfizer jab.

But rest assured: there’s nothing sinister in this. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has just re-assessed its position in light of recent findings. Scientists are now confident the jab is safe for teenagers. And though it’s clear that the 1.4 million teens eligible for the jab are in very little danger of developing serious symptoms of Covid-19 themselves, they can still infect the vulnerable and unvaccinated.

The Delta variant is highly infectious and no one wants to see another surge in cases when schools return in the autumn. In short, the benefits far outweigh the costs. The latest guidance simply brings us into line with most other European countries… and rightly so.

The JCVI’s change of heart is welcome, but I’d go further still and offer the jab to all those over 12, said Deepti Gurdasani in The Guardian. That’s what they’re already doing in Canada, France and the US. This wouldn’t just check the spread of the disease: it would be for the children’s benefit, too.

Even for the young, Covid-19 isn’t just another “minor illness”. According to the Office for National Statistics, some 34,000 children under 18 are suffering from long Covid, more than 7,000 of whom have been living with it for more than a year. We also know the disease can have “long-term neurological effects” for hospitalised children, some quite possibly permanent.

But parents remain suspicious, said David Cox in The Daily Telegraph. A recent survey found almost half were either unsure about letting their children be jabbed or firmly against. Not without reason: studies in the US have linked the Pfizer jab to cases of myocarditis or heart inflammation in the young. But in the end that shouldn’t deter us: we’re only talking of a handful of cases and most have been swiftly treated.

That small risk might nevertheless outweigh the even smaller risk of a child getting seriously ill with Covid, said The Sunday Telegraph. Which is why vaccinating children is no straightforward issue. Is it for their benefit or is it to protect older age groups? And if it becomes a precondition for international travel, won’t the decision to jab them become more for social than health reasons?

My reservations have more to do with priorities, said Alex Richter on The Conversation. How can we justify giving scarce vaccines to our teenagers, who are most unlikely to become seriously ill from the disease, when millions of vulnerable people around the world are still waiting for a first dose?

It’s not only unjust, it’s short-sighted. Viruses don’t need passports. If other nations can’t control the disease they’ll send it right back to us. The WHO has advised richer nations to hold off giving booster jabs until vaccines are more fairly shared. The same should surely apply to jabs for the young.

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