Nicola Sturgeon is now calling for children as young as 12 to be vaccinated against Covid-19, following the approval of jabs for 16 and 17 year olds. This would be an unforgivable waste of vaccines.
Make no mistake: vaccines are in limited supply, just not in rich countries like the UK. Instead of wasting jabs on children who are at almost zero risk of serious illness, we should be sending surplus vaccines to the poorest and most vulnerable places in the world.
History will not forgive countries who vaccinated their own children ‘just in case’ (in case of what?) while the elderly and healthcare workers all over the world continue to die from Covid.
There may have been an argument in the past that we should vaccinate children to avoid them having to isolate and miss out on more school. As an ex-headteacher, I believe that we should do anything we can to avoid more disruption to education. However as the school ‘pingdemic’ draws to a close, this argument no longer holds much water.
Studies have shown that children who contract the virus are extremely unlikely to get sick. Similarly, the idea that they could be ‘super-spreaders’ is similarly not supported by science. And even if they were super-spreaders, almost everyone else is vaccinated.
A recent study that came out of Israel is instructive; it found that for every 20% increase in the share of vaccinated adults, the share of children who tested positive for the virus fell by half.
Without straying into anti-vax territory, we must remember that younger people have been more likely to suffer from vaccine side-effects like blood clotting complications that have been associated with the Oxford Astra Zeneca jab. Why take that risk?
Remember too that globally there is a huge vaccine shortage. Fewer than 1 in 7 people are fully vaccinated. Many countries have literally no vaccines, and many others have almost none. India, known as the pharmacy of the world, is in the throes of a deadly second wave, despite being a global pharmaceutical superpower. What chance does sub-Saharan Africa have?
There is a simple moral imperative to get vaccines to those who need them the most. We followed that domestically, prioritising healthcare workers, the elderly and the vulnerable. Why not do the same globally? We should feel fortunate that children are naturally protected by their age, and act accordingly. We must also acknowledge that the vaccine has done one of its sub-jobs, it’s kept more serious Covid effects at bay, to the point where the NHS is in a better place than if so many adults had not vaccinated.
As well as morals, there is a pragmatic element here. The virus doesn’t care about them, so neither should we when it comes to our vaccines.
Every time the virus is transmitted, it is given a chance to mutate. This is precisely why we have seen more infectious variants (first Delta and now ‘Delta plus’) emerging in India, one of the most populous and densely populated countries in the world.
With Covid, no-one is safe until everyone is safe. Fortunately, children are already safe.
The public support a global approach too. A survey conducted by Save the Children shows that 76% of Brits agree that “people in the UK are still at risk of Covid-19 if the virus is thriving elsewhere in the world”. Prioritising overseas needs would also be a popular and smart diplomatic move, particularly after the recent cut to our international aid budget.
As an educator, I know that scepticism about vaccines is more common among parents making decisions about their children. I have seen parents worry about every last detail of their child’s health and wellbeing, in a way that they never would about their own health. This is a natural and inevitable part of being a parent.
It will be schools and teachers who will be in the firing line for questions, including hostile ones, about vaccinating children. Teachers already have enough to worry about, without the Government outsourcing health policy to them.
Those teachers will also have to answer very awkward questions from children as to why they have received the vaccine, but vulnerable people abroad haven’t. That is exactly the opposite of the kind of values-based education we should be offering our children.