Time to debunk a few myths I have seen floating around the media regarding the vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds.


First published in September 2021.


Myth 1:

“Benefits from vaccines to children are minimal and we are vaccinating them to benefit others.”

Fact:

Multiple studies now show huge direct benefits of vaccines to children.

To understand this, we need to understand the risk to children. Let’s remember that adolescents have had some of the highest infection rates throughout when schools were open, and even more so post-Delta variant. Currently, rates in this group are ~500-600 per 100,000 population.

Public Health England (PHE) data from last week shows over 60,000 cases in the 10 to 19-year-old age group in just the last two weeks (they don’t provide specific data for 12 to 17-year-olds but this gives an idea of the level of infection). Currently, 0.5-0.7% of cases in the under 18s get hospitalised.

PHE

We have had over 2,300 hospitalisations in the under 18s just since 1 July. And we know that 1 in 7 cases (tens of thousands of which occur each week) will go on to develop persistent symptoms lasting 3-4 months, with some developing chronic disability. 11,000 children in the UK have had these for over 1 year.

None of this is trivial. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) can argue that most hospitalisations are in those with pre-existing conditions, but the fact is even the risk in healthy children means vaccines are beneficial.

And, of course, long COVID can affect anyone, and often affects completely ‘healthy’ children.

Even the JCVI’s assessment of risk is very flawed, as I have discussed extensively. If you underestimate the risk to children of severe disease (as they have done), you automatically will underestimate the benefits. Many others looking at this carefully have shown differences.

Here’s, for instance, the analysis from the United States by the CDC about the risks and benefits – the benefits far, far outweigh the risks from the vaccine. This doesn’t even consider long COVID or reducing educational disruption for children.

CDC

Here is another paper from Professor Peter Hotez who is an expert on vaccines and COVID-19 and has extensively studied the rare side effect of myocarditis with vaccines, that also show benefits overwhelmingly outweigh risks.

Here is our analysis, that used the appropriate denominators – assessing risk based on exposure (rather than population!), which also very clearly showed this. We also looked at long COVID risk.

And here some recent data from the CDC showing 10 times higher hospitalisations among the unvaccinated adolescents in the US compared to those who were vaccinated:


Here are numerous world-leading experts on vaccines and children talking about the benefits vs risks of vaccines in adolescents, in our emergency summit:

Here is our open letter to Gavin Williamson signed by over 35 scientists/HCWs, and ~200 parents/educators asking the government to urgently vaccinate adolescents and put mitigations in place in schools.

And almost every country across the world is doing this – France has vaccinated ~50% of its adolescents. The United States has vaccinated over 12 million. Canada has also vaccinated the majority. Almost all of Europe is rapidly moving ahead with this too.

This brings me to Myth 2.


Myth 2:

“Scientists have advised against vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds.”

Fact:

Most scientists strongly support the vaccination of 12-15-year-olds. There are outliers in the JCVI and parts of the UK paediatric community that don’t. But this view is in no way the consensus.

This creates a narrative that if the government moves ahead with vaccinating this age group, they are acting ‘against scientific advice’. They are not. The global scientific consensus currently in the world, and in the non-paediatric community in the UK is to vaccinate adolescents. It is not even just a consensus view, but also very well evidenced in the literature, and in real-world evidence.

I urge the media to report this correctly as these narratives will fuel vaccine hesitancy when the vaccines are inevitably offered to 12 to 15-year-olds.

Myth 3 – perpetuated by the JCVI:

“COVID-19 is not very severe in children.”

Fact:

While it may be less severe than in adults, it causes a significant impact. I have outlined the impact of hospitalisations and long COVID above. We vaccinate children for far less benefit routinely.


Myth 4:

“We are being cautious because of the ‘unknown’ long-term effects of vaccines.”

Fact:

This is rubbish.

If we are weighing unknown effects, let’s weigh the risks from COVID and the risks from vaccines, and their relative probability.

Risks from vaccines: currently 30-40 per million cases of myocarditis – typically mild with good recovery, no deaths.

  • Unknown long term impacts from vaccines: over 14 million adolescents vaccinated across the globe. 95% of myocarditis, largely mild, were all seen within one week of vaccination. Almost no vaccines have been shown to have long term effects after 4 months. This is very unlikely.
  • Unknown long term impacts from COVID-19: known impacts are seriously worrying and not considered by the JCVI they occur in 1 in 7, last 3-4 months, and for 11,000 in the UK for more than 1 year. Neurocognitive symptoms are common. Brain changes in metabolism have been seen at 5-6 months.
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Myth 5:

“Vaccine roll-out in schools will be challenging and disrupt education.”

Fact:

Vaccinating children will likely massively reduce educational disruption, which has really impacted children whenever infection rates have been so high. Look at Scotland.

So many countries have rolled out vaccines to children without disrupting their education. In fact, this is one of the policies that allow schools to remain open by helping contain transmission alongside mitigations so children and staff don’t get ill and need to isolate.

Myth 6:

“We are denying the vaccine to other countries by vaccinating adolescents.”

Fact:

This isn’t a zero-sum game. We can do much more to improve vaccine equity by patent waivers, tech transfer agreements, increased manufacturing, supporting Covax than by donating 9 million doses.

We have done none of this, rather diverting vaccines from India when it was in a crisis. Also, the options aren’t mass infection vs vaccination. If we do decide to not vaccinate certain groups, we have to mitigate and protect them against infection. Mass infecting them while donating vaccines shouldn’t be the option. Similar with booster doses.

Also, I didn’t see this level of scrutiny from the JCVI in recommending booster doses for adults, which will be many more millions. All of this seems ideological.

Our government and scientific bodies have a duty to protect children. They have completely and utterly failed. The actions of the JCVI are out of line with the evidence and policy in most other countries, and with their own rhetoric and narratives.

Even if the JCVI believe as per their analysis that children with pre-existing conditions have a risk 50 times higher than those who are ‘healthy’, why did they wait for 6 weeks after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approval to vaccinate them at a point where cases in this group were higher than ever in the pandemic? Surely, this was reckless beyond imagination.

If they say the rates in children with pre-existing conditions are so high, how many hospitalisations, admissions, and deaths were preventable in this time if they had acted sooner? Yet, they say they adopted the ‘cautious approach’.

And this sadly is a myth too. There is nothing cautious about exposing children to a neurotropic virus that causes long term illness, cognitive effects, and impact on the brain. And all children are precious, regardless of being ‘healthy’ or having ‘pre-existing conditions’.

These myths sadly have found their way into the media and are being repeated again and again. Please do share this piece to help combat them. I am really worried that these myths spread by members of the JCVI will reduce uptake in this age group when vaccines are inevitably offered. 




— AUTHOR —

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, Statistical Genetics, Machine Learning, Queen Mary University of London.


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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 6 September 2021 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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