Government vaccine advisory committee the JCVI has advised that a “non-urgent offer” of two weakened doses of the Pfizer vaccine be made to all children aged five to 11 years. In giving this advice, the committee is clear that the vaccines will not prevent infection or transmission and this is not the purpose of vaccinating children: “Protection against non-severe infection due to the Omicron variant is less good and is anticipated to be of relatively short-duration (weeks).” The purpose instead is “to increase the immunity of vaccinated individuals against severe COVID-19 in advance of a potential future wave of COVID-19”.
The committee says this is a “one-off pandemic response programme” and may not carry forward into normal times: “As the COVID-19 pandemic moves further towards endemicity in the U.K., JCVI will review whether, in the longer term, an offer of vaccination to this, and other paediatric age groups, continues to be advised.”
The JCVI acknowledges the prevalence and strength of natural immunity in the age group: “It is estimated that over 85% of all children aged five to 11 will have had prior SARS-CoV-2 infection by the end of January 2022, with roughly half of these infections due to the Omicron variant. Natural immunity arising from prior infection will contribute towards protection against future infection and severe disease.”
As to the benefit of vaccination, the committee admits to a “high level of uncertainty over a range of assumptions in relation to future estimates of disease in children aged five to 11”. Indeed, its estimates of the benefits amount to speculative modelling of future waves, with an acknowledgement there are many unknowns and the level of benefit (if any) depends on how severe future waves are, how soon they appear and how the associated variants interact with vaccine and natural immunity.
We have to ask then, given that children were already at very low risk from earlier, less mild variants and when they had less natural immunity, how can they be expected to derive any real benefit from being vaccinated now that almost all of them have been infected, and now that Omicron – a mild variant which substantially evades the vaccines – is dominant?.
If the benefits are uncertain even to exist, the harms are clear. The JCVI notes that in America, 8-10% of the eight million five to 11 year-olds vaccinated reported at least one day absent from school following vaccination. You read that right: around one in 10 had a reaction to the vaccine so severe they had to have time off school.
In terms of serious side-effects, the JCVI statement links to a CDC study which it says shows fewer than two cases of vaccine-related myocarditis per million doses in this age group. However, another recent study found post-vaccination myocarditis adverse events were underestimated under the VAERS definition used in the CDC study. The JCVI also acknowledges that “the medium to long-term (months to years) prognosis remains less certain”. It’s worth noting in this regard that rates of post-vaccination myocarditis are much higher in older children. The JCVI rightly does not compare the frequency of vaccine-related myocarditis to that of Covid-related myocarditis, presumably because it accepts that the vaccines do not prevent infection so the comparison is invalid.