Why we need to vaccinate 12-17 year old’s

“If we are to make vaccinations the main mitigation against covid, then it is key that to help soften the incoming wave and cut the high case rates we vaccinate children“.

Pushkin Defyer

Over the last 7 months the vaccine programme has been a national effort with tens of millions vaccinated as hundreds of thousands were vaccinated a day, the peak being 20th May where over 800k doses were given, with over 50% of the adult population now being fully vaccinated. However, while we were initially ahead of the virus, with case rates falling and plateauing until mid-May and the vaccine programme surging far ahead of our European neighbours, the Delta variant was allowed to essentially waltz in and became the dominant variant in the UK while our vaccination campaign is dramatically slowing as the european average in vaccinations given has overtaken the UK. Back when things looked a little rosier, the outgoing head of the vaccine committee declared that we would be covid free by August, now the picture appears the polar opposite, while SAGE warns against allowing case prevalence to increase drastically due to issues such as slowing rapid sequencing and identifying new potentially dangerous variants as well as potentially allowing post-covid syndromes, such as long covid, to have a large impact on the population, case rates are exponentially increasing, with interim numbers from react suggesting it has recently doubled every 6 days alongside a sharp, fourfold increase since the last study. As the new health secretary warns of 100,000 cases a day, in the same breath he suggests we need to ‘live with’ covid and wants the the ‘big bang’ reopening with every single restriction lifted on July 19th to be irreversible, it appears the government has decided to pit the vaccine directly against the virus, essentially making the vaccine our only mitigation. As the picture becomes increasingly bleak, My paper through Centre Think Tank is calling for the vaccination of under 18s as soon as possible to safeguard education, aid in cutting case rates, prevent variants and reach herd immunity which will allow us defeat the virus.

We know we can vaccinate 12-17year olds with the MHRA approving the use of Pfizer Vaccine for 12-17 year olds meaning it is deemed safe by UK health regulators as well as vaccination campaigns for these age groups taking place already in Israel, the US and many EU countries. However, there are reports the vaccination campaign may not even begin for 16-17 year olds until September with all over 18s alone not being offered second jabs until mid-Sept, let alone under 18s. If we are to minimise not only the risk of schools shutting down, as some already have, but also the disruption of classes via isolation due to positive tests we need to have all 12-17 year olds fully vaccinated before the return to school in September and younger age groups should follow if and when possible as soon as they are approved. It does not only benefit the aim of safeguarding education, but it benefits every aim to have children fully vaccinated as soon as possible. The sooner children are vaccinated the sooner it can not only help cut case rates, but it helps us reach herd immunity sooner and prevents the creation of a potentially dangerous new variant in the new school year.

But to explain the benefits and necessities in vaccinating the under-18 population, let us look at each of the four benefits of doing so individually:

When it comes to herd immunity, the vaccination of younger age groups is key. Herd Immunity is important because when we reach the threshold of herd immunity it means enough people have the antibodies for the R number to be below 1, so the virus case rate is decreasing, even if all restrictions are removed. Put simply, the virus is defeated and we can return to a more normal life (as long as we dont make the same mistake of letting another variant in with a higher threshold). We estimate herd immunity with the earliest ‘wild type’ of Covid-19 which led to lockdown 1 to be around 60-80%, however with 2 major mutations with significant transmission advantages and increased transmissibility, we can assume the figure is either near or over 80%, meaning we need to include under 18s who make up 20% of the population in the vaccination programme to achieve herd immunity. This is because, even if the number is below but near 80% of the population, without 100% of adults taking up both doses of the vaccine, we cannot reach the threshold. Indeed, if we include children in vaccination statistics, we have only fully vaccinated just over 50% of the population, and that’s with most adult age groups reaching near their peak in uptake. 

If we are to make vaccinations the main mitigation against covid, then it is key that to help soften the incoming wave and cut the high case rates we vaccinate children. When it comes to cutting case rates we cannot let schools become the drivers of a new third wave as early evidence points towards them currently being. ONS prevalence rates show school age children, particularly older ones,  leading with the highest prevalence from the onset of this wave while at the peak of Bolton’s wave (the first major victim of delta) 10-14 year olds and 15-19year olds lead the wave with cases per 100,000 being hundreds to a thousand higher than over 65s. Vaccinating 12-17yr olds before September will aid us in the battle against a potential winter wave or ongoing wave creeping into winter and help prevent a potential hotspot of infections in schools which spreads up age groups. Indeed, vaccines can play a key role in reducing case rates as the most recent REACT study suggest those unvaccinated have triple the case rates of those that were and government data on case rates in England show the heavily vaccinated over 65s seeing a much smaller rise in infections than the unvaccinated older teenagers who appear to be partially carrying the wave. 

In safeguarding education, it would be simple to quote the ever increasing hundreds of thousands to millions missing out every week, however, the picture on whether this continues to a lesser extent is uncertain. After recent government policy to end contact isolation for under 18s in schools and double vaccinated over 18s come the autumn term, there is an uncertain picture on whether it will simply let covid spread round schools until we see equally as unacceptably high numbers in isolation missing out or have the exact same issue but with a more acceptable level of absence. Either way, the policy is unsafe and still throws marginalised communities and certain regions who have higher case prevalence under the bus while not accepting no absence is acceptable, breaking the back of this government’s key promise to level up all areas of the uk. We need to fully vaccinate older children before the new academic year to ensure this policy is not only safer, but can help cut case rates due to earlier mentioned effects on transmissions and reduce positive case isolations. There should be no absence from our national effort to restore our children’s educational quality, and to help reduce positive case isolation cases my paper also calls for the mask mandate to be reinstated in schools in the face of surging prevalence to help cut transmissions in schools and lessen disruptions and risks of closure as some schools are already being forced to do. 

Finally, by vaccinating children we prevent potentially dangerous new variants undoing the progress we have made over the last 6months. As children, particularly older ones, mix in educational settings unvaccinated with little other mitigations, the virus will have a mixing ground while most adults are fully vaccinated, and with selection pressure being placed on the virus from vaccinated adults and high case rates from children, we risk a mutant virus that can escape vaccine antibodies. There is some early research showing that vaccinations could be slowing the evolution of COVID-19 as a study which presents evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are essentially reducing the chance of an ‘escape’ variant.

While it appears a ‘no brainer’ to vaccinate our schoolchildren, with high take up likely as a survey from ONS shows near 90% of parents would approve their child having the vaccine, there is a case made that vaccines should be sent abroad instead of children being vaccinated as a case of who needs it more. However, I argue with my paper that not only is it still as important to vaccinate under-18s as other age groups generally speaking in regards to herd immunity, but that the government’s decision to make vaccines our only wall of protection has made it all the more important and urgent in preventing disaster and it is a small price to pay of, at 100% take up, roughly 8.6million jabs given to 4.3million 12-17year olds, and, if made available to all under 18s, it would be 13.7million eligible from the population. This will amount to, at most, 27.4million necessary extra doses used while the UK will still have tens of millions spare that can go abroad. 27.4million makes little difference abroad to the billions of people in developing countries but does a great deal at home to safeguard our population and only increases vaccine doses used to around 110million if all uptake remains around 90% of both doses on average, while there is still roughly 600million doses of the ordered roughly 600millioleft that will still make a great impact for those who need it. n doses of the ordered 730million doses left that will still make a great impact for those who need it. 

This is why my paper and Centre Think Tank are calling for the government to urgently vaccinate 12-17year olds before the new academic year.

Written by Pushkin Defyer, our Democracy Spokesperson. He was also the former BAME Officer within Young Liberals and is currently studying for his A-Levels.

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