The madness of vaccinating teenagers
Leave the kids alone – and give those jabs to the developing world.
Thanks to vaccines, the number of people dying with Covid-19 in the UK fell by 99 per cent between January and April. This is a phenomenal achievement and truly worth celebrating. Only now, vaccines are being called on not to prevent serious illness and death, but to serve a political role in the pursuit of Zero Covid. And this, it seems, requires vaccinating children for whom coronavirus has never posed a serious risk.
Back in November, the government promised the nation that the ‘scientific cavalry’ would allow us, in Matt Hancock’s words, to ‘cry freedom’ when the most vulnerable were vaccinated. But now, with an astonishing 75 per cent of the adult population having received a first vaccine dose, we are still embroiled in restrictions. Crying freedom has been postponed indefinitely – or at least until everyone over the age of 12 has received two jabs.
Last week, the UK medicines regulator approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds, after already giving the go-ahead for its use for 16-year-olds. Although the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has yet to recommend the jab for younger teenagers, it seems that this is likely to be a formality. Officials are apparently preparing a vaccine roll-out in schools when pupils return in September, while ‘government sources’ have said vaccinating 12-year-olds could start in August.
Before rushing headlong into jabbing teenagers we need to discuss the ethics of vaccinating children against a virus that is highly unlikely to harm them, at a time when adults in countries lacking vaccines are continuing to die.
Matt Hancock puts forward three reasons for vaccinating children. First, he claims they need protection from Long Covid. But there is no diagnostic test for Long Covid and its prevalence in children is contested. The overwhelming majority of children who test positive for Covid have few, if any, symptoms. Even the tiny number of children most seriously affected by Covid make a full recovery within six months.
Hancock’s second argument for vaccinating children is to stem transmission within the community. He warned this weekend that ‘a huge proportion of the latest cases are in children’. Public Health England backed him up, announcing that children aged 10 and over are responsible for more than a quarter of recent Covid cases. But so what if cases increase in children who are unlikely to get seriously ill? Most now agree that rates of Covid in schools reflect infection rates in the community rather than triggering increases. Hancock seems to forget that vaccines are effective no matter where the vaccinated go, what they do, or who they come into contact with. If granny is vaccinated she can hug her grandkids without fear.
The third argument for vaccinating children is the preposterous claim that children need to be jabbed in order to protect their education. This time it’s Professor Anthony Harnden, the JCVI’s deputy chairman, who has Hancock’s back suggesting vaccinating under-16s is ‘an educational benefit’ because schools will be able to stay open. For any of our rights and freedoms to be pegged to vaccine rates is appalling. The suggestion that children’s education is dependent on them getting vaccinated is a new low.
School closures were never an inevitable consequence of coronavirus. Schools have not previously sent classes home because of outbreaks of flu, chicken pox or stomach bugs. School closures were a political, not a medical, decision. They were a consequence of lockdown, not Covid. Making schooling dependent on vaccines reveals scant concern for children and little regard for education.
It was clear 18 months ago that Covid did not severely impact the young, but this fact was never properly acknowledged. Children, teenagers and young adults were not granted more freedom than the rest of the population. No, they were forbidden from playing with friends, kept out of school and had exams and rites of passage cancelled. Children were made the focus of propaganda – ‘don’t kill granny’ was the message of one shocking campaign.
All too often, children’s behaviour was controlled in order to control adults. Government ministers warned parents against chatting at the school gates. Keeping children at home kept parents at home, too. When schools returned in March, children were expected to wear masks during lessons and take regular lateral-flow tests. Such measures were less about protecting children and more a sop to the teaching unions.
It is the same with vaccines. Headteachers have said that ‘peer pressure’ will ensure a high take-up of the vaccine among children. The hope is that recalcitrant parents will get jabbed when they see their children lining up.
What makes the discussion about vaccinating children even more shocking is the fact it is taking place at a time when adults in poorer countries without abundant vaccines are still dying in large numbers. Sending vaccines abroad, to those who really need them, seems a moral imperative. Sadly, our capacity to weigh up risks and make moral decisions was jettisoned when lockdown was first declared.
Having deliberately ramped up fear about Covid, government ministers and scientific advisers seem unable to admit that low-level community transmission in younger age cohorts is not only inevitable, it is also nothing to be alarmed about. Instead, they are happy to continue exploiting children in order to scare, manipulate and appease adults – and to protect their own reputations. Teenagers are to be jabbed in pursuit of the political goal of Zero Covid. At what point do we just say No?
Joanna Williams is a columnist at spiked and director of Cieo, where she recently published How Woke Conquered the World.
Picture by: Getty.