With the hugely unwelcome news that children have been approached by anti-vaxers at Queen Elizabeth School in Crediton it’s time to update on where we are on vaccinations.
Last week there were two major announcements by the Government on how the UK will continue to combat Covid-19. Firstly, the Government accepted the recommendations of the UK’s four Chief Medical Officers to offer all young people aged 12 to 15 one Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine (clinically vulnerable children will have already been offered a jab). Parental consent will be sought prior to vaccination and the NHS will conduct the rollout through our schools in line with how we handle vaccinations for Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio etc.
This move makes sense. With young adults 10 times less likely to end up in hospital with Covid-19 if they have been vaccinated, it is a good bet that older children will benefit from some level of protection too.
Vaccines have also been proved to reduce transmission, meaning that someone who is vaccinated and catches Covid is less likely to pass it on. Vaccinating this lower age group should therefore reduce transmissions within schools and so reduce the number of children missing school due to testing positive even if they have no symptoms. I hope there will also be a positive impact on mental health – many 16 and 17 year olds felt less anxious after getting vaccinated and the same may well apply to the 12-15 age group too.
The second Government announcement last week focused on boosters for those already vaccinated. Following independent advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation around 30 million people will be offered a third dose including over-50s, younger adults with health conditions and frontline health and care workers. Topping up protection levels will be important because Covid will circulate alongside flu and other respiratory viruses this winter and will spread more easily as people socialise more indoors.
Throughout the pandemic I have urged people to get vaccinated and the single biggest thing that would help to reduce infection levels and return us even closer to pre-pandemic normality would be for those who have turned down the offer of a vaccine to reconsider. Although only 10% of adults have declined the vaccine that is still millions of people who are more likely to be seriously ill if they catch Covid and more likely to spread it to others. Please don’t listen to conspiracy theories on social media, listen to the advice of our best doctors and scientists – the risks associated with vaccines are extremely low – for the overwhelming majority they are safe, effective and provide vital protection for all of us.
PS. I visited Bovey Tracey Primary School on Friday and although the issue of vaccinations was not an issue (jabs for 12-15 year olds don’t affect primaries) there was nonetheless a real sense of positivity among the staff and governors I spoke to that this term is very different to the last academic year. The pupils I spoke to were fully engaged with their learning and the school should be very proud of how it has handled the past 18 months.