Give me a crash course in ... child vaccination for Covid-19

Focus always going to shift to younger people as vaccination programme continues apace

Are we vaccinating children now?

Well, specifically, the Government has decided to make vaccines available to those aged between 12 and 15 – everyone above those ages was already eligible and nobody under, at least not yet.

The focus was always going to shift to younger people as the vaccination programme continues apace. This week, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), which guides Government, gave the go-ahead.

But I thought children were safe from the virus?

They are, to a very large degree. As with all things Covid-19, studies will continue for some time but from what has been ascertained to date, the large majority of children who contract the virus will not get very sick, and certainly not at any level of concern.

Research out of the UK this month shows that while the coronavirus is more of a risk to children than seasonal flu, the risks of healthy children dying from it stand at about one in two to three million. That said, there are concerns about the as yet not entirely understood “long Covid”, and also a remote possibility of a potentially severe and dangerous complication known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) that can affect the heart and other organs.

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But is the vaccine safe?

This comes back to the same old "risk to benefit" question – do we let our children take a chance with the disease or with the vaccine? The Government is to launch an information campaign shortly. Children will receive the mRNA vaccines – Pfizer and Moderna. In recent clinical trials on the age group, Moderna said no significant safety concerns were identified and side effects were mild.

Pfizer said mild side effects experienced included arm pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, chills, fever and muscle and joint pain. However, Harvard Medical School has noted a "higher-than-expected" number of heart inflammation cases following mRNA vaccination, particularly among boys and young men.

Well if I’m going to give it to my child, I need to know it will work

This seems far more clear-cut, and encouraging. When announcing the decision earlier this week, the Department of Health said clinical trials had delivered efficacy estimates for both vaccines at 100 per cent in this age group.

Both companies have been conducting trials on the vaccines on increasingly younger cohorts as the world gets to grips with its mass vaccination assault on the virus. Pfizer said the immune response was even stronger than in 16- to 25-year-olds while Moderna reported similar outcomes.

Great, I’m going online to find out more

Just be careful.

There has probably never been more of a focus on misinformation than during this pandemic and so-called “anti-vaxers” will be keen to confuse. The Government will launch its information campaign, parents are advised to talk to their GPs about any concerns and, as always, people are urged to ensure they are getting online information from reputable sources.

"It's important that parents prime themselves now and know they will be a target in the next two to three weeks, particularly through social media," deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said this week. Whatever decision parents of younger children make, Prof Karina Butler, chair of Niac, said it would be respected.