Tuesday, December 5, 2023

COVID-19: Why have cautious government advisers now changed their minds on vaccines for 5 to 11-year-olds?

Late last year, as Omicron raced towards a peak, experts decided against extending the rollout to healthy five to 11-year-olds. What has prompted the change of heart?

So, why now?

Two months ago, when Omicron was racing towards a peak, and the threat from the variant was considered to be severe, the government’s vaccines advisers decided healthy young children should not have the jab.

Now, when cases are falling fast and Omicron’s bark is known to have been worse than its bite, they’ve changed their mind.

It doesn’t seem at first to make sense, particularly when many other countries have been vaccinating young children for several weeks.

During that lost time, Omicron has swept through primary schools.

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Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that in mid-January almost one in every seven young children had COVID-19.

Of course, natural infection brings rapid immunity. But the rampaging virus has been disruptive for schools and frustrating for parents.

So why the change of heart by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation?

Why now do the experts recommend all young children are vaccinated, when before it was just those with clinical risk factors?

JCVI waiting on more data before giving the green light

As always with medicines, it comes down to risk and benefit. And the JCVI is cautious.

Young children rarely have serious consequences from coronavirus.

Of any age group, five to 11-year-olds have the lowest risk.

But the vaccine does reduce the chances of testing positive and missing school.

So, there is a benefit to their education.

Against that there is the question of side effects.

Older children, particularly boys, have a very rare risk of a heart problem called myocarditis, which is why the JCVI agonised over the rollout to 12 to 15-year-olds.

It’s likely the committee wanted the reassurance of data from countries that have been vaccinating the under-11s.

The US and Germany have immunised millions of young children now, and that’s given the JCVI the confidence that myocarditis isn’t an issue.

Relief for parents but many will have to wait

So it’s given the green light to extending the rollout.

Vaccination does seem to give a slightly different immunity to having COVID-19.

And taking the jab after the disease delivers a significant and long-lasting boost to protection.

But even if families do decide to take up the offer of a jab, many will have to wait.

The NHS recommends children aren’t vaccinated within 12 weeks of testing positive and Omicron has been so common in schools that many won’t even be eligible for the jab until after Easter.

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