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So now it’s official: the choices made over the last 18 months to “follow the science” were optional. On Monday – against the scientific advice of the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) – the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) gave the green light for 12-15 year-olds to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
What has the science to say on the matter?
· Boys in this age group are many times more likely to be hospitalised with myocarditis – serious heart disease that can be fatal – than with Covid-19;
· The benefits of vaccination with mRNA vaccines (the ones proposed for use on our children) are inferior and less durable than natural immunity gained from being exposed to SARS-CoV-2.
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This should be an open and shut case. In medical terms, the benefits of any intervention must exceed any associated risks: First, do no harm. The precautionary principle applies. Covid mortality in the young is so low that even a single vaccine-related fatality might well exceed the casualty rate related to SARS-CoV-2. Is this a risk worth taking? In an effort to control waning immunity, Israel is already on a 3rd dose of Pfizer for those aged 12 and over – triple helpings of heart failure, anyone?
Despite all of this, the CMOs presented convoluted spreadsheet modelling that claims vaccinating secondary school pupils will result in fewer Covid-related missed school days, including an ominous threat that otherwise school closures might be needed as a “contingency”.
This is twisted and perverse. Since when is this an acceptable line to take? It is a poor attempt to justify the indefensible. Full of caveats and conjecture, these models are a stupendously poor effort. And the grand conclusion? Apparently a full vaccine roll-out might save one day – yes, one day! – of in-person teaching per 20 children.
Chillingly, the CMOs have in mind that a “child-centred approach to communication and deployment of the vaccine should be the primary objective”. This is code for aggressive marketing to children to coerce participation. And parents will lose the right of veto.
Why do this? Even if the known and unknown adverse effects are acceptable (and the science tends to indicate they are not), the JCVI points out that delivery of a vaccine programme for children and young people is likely to be disruptive to education, with adverse reactions leading to time away from school anyway.
And what of the cost? Jabbing around 2.5 million otherwise healthy children has a direct cost of roughly £100 million (just think how many cancer treatments that could pay for). And the programme will of course cause substantial stress on an already overloaded health service.
In summary, this comes across as a severe case of not seeing the wood for the trees (or perhaps wilful obscuration of the wood?). All rationality has been abandoned. The implicit threat of school closures is cynical – even before Covid vaccines had been deployed, those countries that kept schools open had better outcomes than those that didn’t.
At Monday’s press conference, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty stated that it is “very important people stick to what they are good at and don’t try and bring in novelties”.
Well, quite. First – and last – do no harm. Those novelty models and threats to withdraw schooling have no place as a justification for children being subjected to an unnecessary – and potentially harmful – medical intervention.
Dr Alex Starling is an advisor to and non-executive director of various early-stage technology companies. Follow him on Twitter: @alexstarling77