This week Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine was made available in Australia to children aged five to 11 years old. It should remain a parent’s choice whether their children are vaccinated.
Our medical system is based on informed consent for the good reason that all medical treatments involve risks. Each individual (or in the case of children the parents or guardian) deserves the right to weigh up these risks and make their own decision.
There can be reasonable disagreements about the balance between the benefits and risks especially given there is so much we still do not know about Covid or the vaccines.
What is not in dispute is that coronavirus is not a major risk for young children. Not a single child aged between five to 11 had died from coronavirus in the data the Australian regulator – the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) – relied on to approve the vaccine for young children. According to data compiled by the New York Times, the flu is a greater risk to young children than Covid – although both are low risks. Young children are not normally given the flu vaccine.
Some, however, are arguing that all children should be given the vaccine because it would protect adults from coronavirus spread.
A Pfizer representative said that the ‘societal benefits’ have to be factored in. The Australian Advisory Committee on Vaccines (which advise the TGA) stated that “there are likely to be both direct and indirect benefits to this age group and the broader community associated with vaccination of this age group.”
Professor Michael Hawkes, from the University of Alberta, said that “childhood vaccination generates an ‘altruistic’ reduction in the number of adult cases, hospitalisation, and mortality particularly among the unvaccinated, who have a high risk of adverse outcomes”.
Is it really altruistic to impose risks on children to protect adults? One hundred years ago when the Titanic was sinking it was women and children first. That should still be our standard because there is a moral obligation to protect the young and, by doing so, protect our future. Some of the arguments put in favour of vaccinating children are putting a reverse equation forward.
These ‘immunity’ arguments, which treat children as part of the ‘herd’, fail on their own standards. The broad idea here is that vaccinating children will limit the spread of coronavirus by achieving ‘herd immunity’.
We can all see that the vaccines do not do a good job at stopping people getting Covid and hence there is no real ‘societal benefit’ from getting all children vaccinated. As the TGA said in their approval “Vaccine efficacy against asymptomatic infection and viral transmission are not known for the proposed age group.”
The decision then returns to what is best for the child.
In the United States approval, their drug regulator (the FDA) ran a number of scenarios that compared the risk of myocarditis (a rare, heart related side effect of the vaccines) to the benefits of preventing severe Covid in children. Of the six scenarios, all but one showed a net benefit in children receiving the vaccine.
However, the one scenario that showed greater risks than benefits was the one in which the vaccine did not prevent many children getting COVID. Given the emergence of the Omicron variant, and the clear evidence that vaccines are not doing a good job at stopping people getting COVID, this scenario is relevant for our current situation.
The TGA noted in their approval that “No cases of myocarditis or pericarditis were observed, but the participants’ numbers and duration of follow-up was relatively small and post-marketing surveillance will be of critical importance.” Pfizer is still conducting studies and is currently evaluating troponin 1 levels (a marker for myocarditis) in children post vaccine.
All of this reveals why we should let parents decide what is best for their children. We should resist any mandates that would force children to get a vaccine for a virus that is of little risk to them.