A few people have contacted me about vaccinating 12-15 year olds. I know this is complex and difficult topic, and one that the Government has put a lot of thought into. I am keen to hear a wide range of views from Norwich North and to ensure these are communicated to the Government.
It is important to be clear about the process the Government went through before making this decision. Earlier this year, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the Covid-19 vaccines supplied by Pfizer and Moderna for 12- to 17-year-olds. It confirmed that both vaccines are safe and effective for this age group. The MHRA is one of the best medical regulators in the world and I can reassure you that authorisation would not be approved unless the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness had been met.
It was then up to the JCVI to decide if the vaccines were suitable to be rolled-out on a wider basis. While the JCVI assessed that the health benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms, the margin of benefit was considered too small to support universal vaccination on this basis alone. That is why additional advice was sought and the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) considered the matter from a broader perspective. You can read the full advice from the CMOs here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/universal-vaccination-of-children-and-young-people-aged-12-to-15-years-against-covid-19/universal-vaccination-of-children-and-young-people-aged-12-to-15-years-against-covid-19
In their view, the additional likely benefits of reducing educational disruption, and the consequent reduction in public health harm, including mental health, from that disruption, on balance provide sufficient benefit in addition to the benefit identified by the JCVI. The CMOs therefore recommend extending the offer of universal vaccination, with a first dose of Pfizer, to all 12-15 year olds. The Government has accepted this advice.
Chris Whitty, the CMO for England, has made it clear to MPs that the CMOs advice was “entirely medical” and had not been “political” or “influenced by politicians”. Professor Whitty said the advice given to the Government on vaccinating children was “categorically” a medical decision.
It important to emphasise that the final decision was to offer vaccines to children in this age group. That gives parents and children a choice on whether to or not to have a vaccine. Vaccines for children have not been made mandatory, in any way. The decision to have a vaccination is entirely up to parents and their children.
As the CMOs have said, it is essential that children and young people aged 12 to 15 and their parents are supported in their decisions, whatever decisions they take. I entirely agree that children and parents should not be stigmatised either for accepting, or not accepting, the vaccination offer. Individual choice must be respected.
In the UK we operate a system of informed consent for vaccinations, meaning that we provide as much information as possible about vaccines to individuals, who must then consent for themselves to receive the dose. Except in exceptional circumstances, no vaccine in this country is compulsory: you are right that it is up to an individual whether to receive a vaccine.
The school age vaccination service has vast experience of dealing with several other vaccine rollouts in secondary schools, such as the HPV vaccine and the flu jab. The clinicians who work on these roll-outs are very well equipped and very well trained on privacy and other aspects of dealing with vaccines in schools.
If you need any more information about vaccination, I would recommend visiting the NHS website here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/coronavirus-vaccine/
At every point in the vaccination programme, decisions have been guided by the best clinical advice and I know that this decision is no different. I welcome the fact that all children aged 12 to 15 will have the choice to have the jab, if they wish to do so.