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Are children being targeted for a Covid-19 vaccine they don’t need?

I had a lightbulb moment regarding the current thinking of NPHET the other day following two conversations with academics here and in the UK on the subject of vaccinating children against Coronavirus. You may have read my previous thoughts on vaccinating young people generally on this platform.

Both of them make the same argument. We need to vaccinate the whole population, including children, to prevent circulation of the virus and therefore protect the vulnerable. They acknowledge that children are not statistically at risk from serious disease but believe that they owe the rest of us the altruism of “taking one for the team”

We’re now being told that the National Immunisation Advisory Body is expected to approve the administration of a vaccine – most likely the Pfizer jab – for 12 to 15-year-olds this week.

I don’t know where to start with this logic. Firstly, children cannot give informed consent, so they cannot be said to have any choice in this matter- their parents will decide, based on the public health advice given to them.

Second, under the ancient precept of “primum non nocere” there cannot be said to be a net benefit to a child of taking this vaccine. Jörg Dötsch, the head of the German Society of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (DGKJ), told the public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that he is opposed to an emergency approval of a Covid-vaccine for children. “It is always very important that a child is vaccinated or given medication only when there is a direct benefit to the child or adolescent,” he pointed out.

It’s an important consideration, because children are generally considered to be at low-risk when it comes to Covid-19. According to the Financial Times:

“In the US, 332 people under the age of 18 have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic began, compared with more than 560,000 adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The division is also stark in England and Wales, where 37 under-20s have lost their lives to the virus, compared with more than 130,000 adults.”

Data from the Office of National Statistics in the UK shows a total of 15 deaths from Covid from March 2020 to May 2021 in those 14 and under from a population of 10.5 million.

Prof Adam Finn, who sits on the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said that “one of the few good things about this pandemic is children are very rarely seriously affected by this infection”.

If the risk of harm to children from Covid is very low, then any risks from any vaccine being offered to that age-group must be carefully examined.

There are a number of worrying aspects in the FDA factsheet which gives details from the US Pfizer trial in around 1000 12–15-year-olds.

First, the group were only followed for 2 months, so we have no information about anything except very short-term adverse effects. Secondly, 30 fewer children received the second dose. No explanation is given for this.

0.4% of the vaccinated group suffered a “serious adverse effect” versus 0.1% of the placebo group. No detail is given as to the nature of these adverse events. Their description in that factsheet of a “serious adverse event” is that it includes death, a life-threatening event, hospitalisation and persistent or permanent incapacity. It sounds like a small percentage – and it is – but for context, if all the under 14s in that 10.5 million population in the UK were vaccinated, we could expect 4200 “serious adverse effects” were that percentage to hold.

As the vaccines are licenced under an EUA (Emergency Use Authorisation) we do not know the medium or long-term safety data for them yet. The notion of putting a child at risk for some theoretical benefit to others disturbs me greatly.

A retired pediatrician told GB News yesterday that all medication had the potential for side-effects – and that because Covid-19 generally produced mild effects in children, while also seeming to produce worse side effects in that age group, consideration needed to be given to whether the vaccine side-effects are more than that of the disease itself.

The discussions also clarified to me the NPHET style thinking around the virus: any notion of naturally acquired immunity in the young helping to bolster the general immunity in the population seems anathema to them. This would appear to fly in the face of any thinking on population immunity prior to the appearance of this particular pathogen.

This helps explain the Tony Holohan tweet – he (and by extension NPHET) seem to believe that any natural circulation of virus is wrong and must be curtailed. The end point for them is not the number of deaths or hospitalisations but some kind of fully vaccinated nirvana where we completely defeat an airborne, mutating, seasonal respiratory virus which has now been shown to have relatively low morbidity and mortality in a population in which the vulnerable have been vaccinated.

This thinking ties in nicely with Dermot Dorgan’s article on their peculiar opposition to antigen testing.

Thinking like this is academic thinking, perfect world thinking. It’s no coincidence that the vast majority of those calling the shots in NPHET are academics and have little experience in clinical practice. The real world is messy, chaotic and unpredictable and doesn’t lend itself to the level of control they aspire to. Population immunity in this situation has always been thought of as being achieved by a combination of vaccine-derived and natural immunity. Vaccines and natural infections both confer long lasting protection from serious disease, but do not prevent infections- immunity is maintained in the population by repeated episodes of mild infection with few or no symptoms. This virus, like all the other respiratory pathogens, will circulate forever, but in future will cause far less harm.

What is worrying is that, underNPHETs unattainable vision, there is no end to restrictions – more lockdowns will follow next winter from the inevitable spike in PCR cases due to seasonality, the young and children will get the blame and come under extreme pressure to submit to a vaccine they don’t need. Unless there is open public discourse around the NPHET approach (something sadly lacking so far during the pandemic) I fear for the country in the next 12 months.

 


 

Denis Beary is a vet living in Kildare

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