Thank you for contacting me about your views on the roll out of vaccines for children under the age of 16. I have consistently supported the vaccine rollout during the pandemic, and will continue to follow the medical experts on this.
Firstly, I firmly believe that vaccines are the most effective public health intervention against COVID-19, both to protect people against the virus and to enable restrictions to be lifted. Although I do recognise that some people are vaccine-hesitant. Vaccines teach the body’s immune system to recognise and fight the infection they have been designed to protect against. Approval is only given if the UK regulator – the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – is satisfied that the vaccine is both safe and effective. It is clear from the existing data that vaccines have an overwhelmingly positive impact on helping to fight this disease, and the death toll would be far higher if it wasn’t for their use. I can assure you that I have also done a great deal of research before coming to this conclusion on the benefits of vaccinations.
Earlier this year, the UK’s medicines regulator approved COVID-19 vaccines supplied by Pfizer and Moderna for 12 to 17-year-olds, confirming that both vaccines are safe and effective for this age group. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) subsequently recommended vaccination for all 16 and 17-year-olds and for 12 to 15-year-olds with serious underlying health conditions.
Recently, the four UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) consulted with clinical experts and public health professionals before recommending that a universal offer of one dose of the Pfizer vaccine should be made to all 12 to 15-year-olds. The CMOs recognised the importance of avoiding the disruption of being out of school in making this decision, alongside the wider mental health benefits this brings.
I welcome the CMOs’ guidance and I am pleased that the Government has accepted their recommendation. We know vaccines are safe and effective; they will benefit children and they will help to reduce transmission.
I understand that people may have concerns about the extension of vaccines to children. I am pleased that the Vaccines Minister has confirmed that parental consent will be sought prior to vaccination, in line with other school vaccination programmes. I believe it is vital that the Government ensures parents have all the facts and information they need.
However, given that we know vaccines are safe and effective, I support the recommendations of the JCVI on extending the rollout to children and young people. It will protect those most vulnerable and drive down the overall transmission of the virus.
More widely, while COVID-19 infection is usually mild in younger people, children can still become very sick and develop ‘long COVID’. Scientists have warned that emerging data about the number of children suffering from ‘long COVID’ should not be ignored.
Furthermore we can’t take risks with our children’s health and education. The vaccine alone is not sufficient to ensure the safety of children in our schools and cut down on lost days of education. Therefore I fully support the continued use of facemasks and the implementation of testing and ventilation systems to our classrooms.
However, this does not mean that I will stop holding the Government to account, and scrutinising the way they are handling the pandemic at every step. I have consistently worked to uncover and highlight this Government’s inadequacy over the last 16 months, and I will continue to show strong opposition.