Does my child have to be vaccinated? Parents’ questions answered on under-18s jabs pl…


Does my child have to be vaccinated, will even babies have it and can’t it be a spray instead of a needle?

News that Covid jabs are to be given to under 18s has left parents with lots of questions.

Here, Dr Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, and Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Tropical Medicine, provide some answers…

Why should children have the vaccine?

For the same reasons as adults, says Prof McKee. “To protect them from disease and to reduce transmission. Some people will argue that serious disease and death are rare among children, but they do occur.

But we should remember that the main reason for vaccinating children against influenza is to protect older people in their families to whom they might transmit disease.

Doctor doing vaccine injection to a child, medicine, healthcare, pediatry and people concept
Children need to be vaccinated to protect older relatives they may come into contact with (stock image)

“We will need to get a high level of immunity in the population to control the spread of Covid, and this will mean that we have to vaccinate many of the approximately 20% of the population who are young people.”

Dr Majeed says: “Children will usually have a mild or asymptomatic illness, but they can sometimes have a prolonged illness that can result in them being absent from school and which can also occasionally lead to serious long-term complications, such as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome.”

Will all under-18s get the jab or specific groups/age groups?

Syringe with coronavirus vaccine
Childhood vaccinations are not compulsory in the UK (stock image)

That will be a decision for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, says Prof McKee.

Dr Majeed says it also depends on the results of clinical trials in children. “Vaccines will only be made available to children once we have good evidence of their safety and efficacy, and they have been licensed for use in children in the UK by the MHRA.

“It’s likely that any vaccination programme for children will start with those old enough to attend secondary school (above the age of 11), with vaccinations for younger children starting later.

Will it be compulsory?

No, says Dr Majeed. “Childhood vaccinations are not compulsory in the UK and are only given with parental consent.”

Does it have to be an injection?

Yes, says Dr Majeed. “All the Covid-19 vaccinations in use in the UK, or which are close to being approved, are given by injection. It will be some time, perhaps years, before we have Covid vaccines that can be given by other routes, such as the nasal influenza vaccine that is used in children.”

Will babies be vaccinated, and will it be given when they get their other jabs?

A health worker prepares AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine during mass COVID-19 vaccination program in Sanur, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia on March 22 2021.
The jab roll-out has been a success so far (stock image)

It is a possibility, says Prof McKee. “A lot will depend on our ability to answer various questions about the duration of immunity and the effectiveness of the vaccine in babies.”

Dr Majeed says we don’t know yet if babies might get to together with their other vaccinations. “But if this was possible, this would make vaccination more straightforward for children, parents and the NHS.”

Will children get it at school or elsewhere?

Dr Majeed says: “This has not been decided yet but if vaccines are given to school-age children, this would be easier to carry out in schools as we currently do for the influenza vaccine for children.

“However, the government may also decide to use the Covid-19 vaccine centres because some vaccines – such as the Pfizer mRNA vaccine – are not very easy to transport.”

Are children getting vaccines in other countries? What has happened?

Prof McKee says: “In Israel at least 600 young people with chronic conditions, in particular cystic fibrosis, have been vaccinated and have had no serious side-effects.”

Dr Majeed points out that “vaccine trials on 16-17-year-olds are underway in the UK and USA, to test the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines in children.

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“Some children aged 16-17 years old in the UK with serious medical problems are also being vaccinated.

“However, the use of Covid-19 vaccines in children is not yet widespread, even for older children.”

Does it mean children who aren’t vaccinated won’t be able to travel abroad?

Dr Majeed says: “It’s likely that children will be excluded from the need to provide proof of vaccination to travel overseas as there are not yet any vaccines that are approved for use for them.

“But they may require a recent negative test for Covid-19 before they can travel. It’s also possible that some countries will change their rules once Covid-19 vaccination becomes common in children.

If every person in Britain is vaccinated, will Covid be eradicated?

No, says Prof McKee. “First, there will always be some people who will refuse to be vaccinated and others who will be missed out for other reasons.

“Second, we must accept that there will continue to be imported cases, as happens from time to time with other diseases that are essentially eliminated here, such as diphtheria.”

Dr Majeed agrees. “Only one disease, smallpox, has been entirely eradicated through vaccination.

“Vaccines are not 100% effective in preventing infection, although they are very effective at preventing serious illness and death.

“Hence, we will still see cases of Covid-19 in the UK but if we have very high vaccine uptake, we are unlikely to see large outbreaks unless a new variant of virus appears that is resistant to current vaccines.”

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