The Irish Times view on Covid-19 vaccines for children: a symptom of global inequality

Ireland’s debate has been virtually silent on the WHO’s call for wealthy countries to hold off on vaccinating children and instead to donate doses to poorer states

The United Kingdom has decided not to vaccinate younger teenagers,  whereas the United States has been administering jabs to over-12s for some time. Photograph: Fred Tanneau/ AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom has decided not to vaccinate younger teenagers, whereas the United States has been administering jabs to over-12s for some time. Photograph: Fred Tanneau/ AFP via Getty Images

 

The State’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign will soon enter a new phase after the recommendation by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) that the rollout should be extended to children between the ages of 12 and 15. That Niac came down in favour of offering shots to all children in that age group, as opposed to a more limited extension to children with underlying conditions, reflects the high level of confidence among scientists in the safety of the vaccines and the high public-health costs of allowing the virus to transmit widely among younger cohorts.

Opponents of such a move argue that it is unnecessary as children do not suffer badly from Covid-19. It’s true that the older you are, in general, the more likely you are to fall seriously ill. Some concerns have been raised about myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart, which the European Medicines Agency (EMA) says is a very rare side effect of the Pfizer and Moderna jabs, particularly for young boys.

The question has divided opinion internationally. The United Kingdom has decided not to vaccinate younger teenagers, for instance, whereas the United States has been administering jabs to over-12s for some time and could offer the shots to the under-12s by the middle of winter.

Understanding how the virus affects children is a work in progress. Important questions are still unanswered about the health impact of long Covid, for example, which could affect children and others in ways we do not yet fully appreciate. With the Delta variant spreading rapidly among young people, and some evidence that it causes more severe disease, there is also a strong argument for vaccinating children as an essential step towards herd immunity – a point argued by the Health Service Executive last week – and so as to reduce the risk of new, vaccine-resistant variants emerging through untrammelled transmission.

The more urgent ethical dilemma relates to the global inequality that the current debate highlights. As Ireland and other western states discuss whether to offer vaccines to children, many healthcare workers and vulnerable adults in developing countries still have no access to a jab and could be waiting months to receive one. Ireland has a strong self-interest in limiting the potential for new variants arising elsewhere; this is a highly-transmissible disease that moves across continents rapidly. Just as important, however, is the “moral catastrophe”, as the World Health Organisation calls it, behind this unequal distribution of life-saving shots. Ireland has closely followed the advice of the WHO throughout the pandemic. It is striking, however, that the current debate has been virtually silent on the organisation’s call for wealthy countries to hold off on vaccinating children and instead to donate doses to poorer states through the Covax vaccine-sharing scheme.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.