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Doctors and scientists urge caution in giving Covid jabs to ‘low risk’ children

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The letter has been signed by 12 scientists, medical experts and 21 peers and MPs including the former president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, a former government vaccine advisor, paediatricians and experts in infectious disease as well as 21 politicians and peers. 

It argues the risk benefit calculations made by the JCVI and the Chief Medical Officer were based on “less than complete data on both the harms and the benefits of vaccinating children compared to the evidence now available.”

It cites new evidence showing the risk of myocarditis in young men and boys is up to 14 times higher after vaccination than after infection. 

And it states that given the high level of naturally acquired immunity from infection as well as the replacement of the Delta variant by milder Omicron, “it’s crucial that, if we are to proceed with the mass double vaccination of healthy children, we are absolutely certain this policy will do more good than harm.”

It states that the justification for vaccinating children was to provide “marginal benefits” of reducing time spent out of school due to covid infection but it cites new data showing that vaccines are no longer effective at preventing infection with Omicron. 

It states: “Furthermore, the negligible risks of Covid infection to children have become even more nugatory if, as it appears, Omicron is associated with less severe disease, whereas the benefits of natural infection (rather than vaccination) in terms of longer lasting immunity are becoming more clear.”.

And it concludes: “We urge the JCVI to review this new evidence and provide updated advice to the Government with regards to the mass vaccination of healthy 12-15 year olds.” 

Signatory Professor Brent Taylor, Professor Emeritus of Community Child Health, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, and former JCVI member said: “The JCVI made a very sensible and laudable recommendation when it advised the Government last September against the mass vaccination of healthy children against Covid-19. The Committee was rightly concerned about the unknown potential harms of the new vaccines, in particular myocarditis. 

“Since the unfathomable decision of the CMO to go against that advice, second doses are now being offered to children despite further evidence of the potential harm of myocarditis, most worryingly the frequency, especially following the second dose. The latest CDC data reports elevated rates of post-vaccination myocarditis for boys aged 12-15, 2.5-24 times higher in the seven days after first dose and 24-228 times higher in the seven days after second dose. 

“So, whilst the absolute risks are still low they cannot be described as trivial and the absolute risk from Covid-19 to healthy children is negligible. Additionally, the vaccines stop neither infection nor transmission and many children will have broad and robust natural immunity following infection. I’m afraid the mass vaccination of healthy children is not based on sound evidence. It is time for the JCVI, the CMO and the Government to reassess all the evidence now available and alter its recommendation accordingly.”

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Miriam Cates Consservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, who also signed the letter, said: “Despite the fact that children are at almost no risk of harm from COVID, the harms of lockdowns and restrictions  – such as lost education, missed opportunities and online harms –  have placed an enormous burden on our young.

“When the decision was made to vaccinate healthy 12-15 year olds last September despite the JCVI’s concerns about unknown harms, I was concerned that, yet again, we were not putting the best interests of our children first.

“With Omicron having become the dominant variant and much more data now available the situation has now changed. The JCVI should now have the opportunity to review the emerging evidence on the benefits and risks of child vaccinations and provide updated recommendations to Government.

“If we are to continue vaccinating our children against COVID we must be sure it is in their short and long-term interests and that we are doing more good than harm.”

However the department of health and social care said the vaccine was “safe and effective” for children. 

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and deputy lead for the NHS vaccination programme, said: “I know how much disruption Covid has caused for so many families over the past two years, affecting young people’s lives and education.

“Getting vaccinated protects them, their family and their friends, letting them stay at school and continue socialising.

“The vaccine is safe and effective – my 13-year-old son had his first vaccination when I had my booster at our local pharmacy and it gave us both reassurance that he was protected as well, and he has recently topped up his protection with a second dose.”

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We need to act in the best interests of our precious children, says Miriam Cates Conservatve MP for Penistone and Stockbridge

Our response to the pandemic has revealed some uncomfortable truths about our attitude to children. Throughout nearly two years of educational disruption and missed opportunities, our children have been asked to make the greatest sacrifices for the least reward.

The decision to push ahead with the vaccination of healthy 12-15 year olds was another example of how our children’s interests have played second fiddle. Last September, the JCVI – the committee responsible for advising the Government on immunisations – decided not to recommend a child vaccination programme due to concerns over rare but potentially serious side effects. But the Government referred the matter to the Chief Medical Officer to consider any ‘wider benefits’ and the programme was given the go ahead.

It was made clear that both the benefits and risks of COVID vaccination to children were tiny, but whether or not it was right to push ahead, the facts have changed.

When the decision was made, Delta was the dominant variant and one dose of the vaccine reduced transmission of COVID. Now that Omicron is dominant, vaccination appears to have less impact on reducing transmission, shrinking the potential benefits of vaccinating children. And four months on, more evidence is emerging about the likelihood of serious side effects such as myocarditis (swelling of the heart), which studies show could occur more frequently than previously thought. Any marginal benefits to vaccinating children may have disappeared altogether.

That’s why I and a group of MPs, Peers, academics and doctors have written to the JCVI, urging them to review the data and update their recommendations accordingly.

I know that as soon as this paper hits the newsstands I’ll start receiving emails accusing me of being ‘anti-vax’ or of eroding confidence in our (genuinely) world-beating vaccination programme.

Let me be clear; I’m a huge supporter of vaccination. As a science teacher I taught numerous students about British vaccine pioneer Edward Jenner, and how immunisation has brought astonishing improvements in public health over the last two centuries.

But just as it would be foolish to say that vaccinations don’t work, it’s also foolish to say that they never cause harm. All medicines come with risks and like any medical intervention, vaccines should only be approved when they can be shown to do more good than harm.

This is overwhelmingly the case with immunisations for diseases like measles and meningitis, and for COVID vaccinations for the elderly and vulnerable and those who are most at risk. But with children, for whom the COVID risk is almost zero, the risks of vaccination have to be astonishingly small for the programme to be justified. That’s not anti-vax; it’s common sense.

Our children have over half a century of healthy life expectancy ahead of them and it is our duty to ensure that we do not put that health at risk unnecessarily. We need to take a step back from some of the panicked thinking of the pandemic; only in calmly assessing the evidence can we make sure we’re acting in the best interests of our precious children.

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