Boris Johnson yesterday called for all children to be vaccinated in order to keep schools open. He told a Downing Street press conference: “We know how crucial it is to keep children in school, so let’s all make sure our children and young people are vaccinated before they go back next term.”
But why is this a good idea when most schoolchildren have had the virus already and have natural immunity? According to the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge, nearly half of children in England under 15 caught the virus between the beginning of September and mid-October, bringing the total infected at that point to 76%, with more having caught it since. These estimates, while modelled, are also broadly in line with ONS Infection Survey estimates, which show a large outbreak in schoolchildren this autumn.
Noah Carl has highlighted three recent large studies which show that immunity via infection is much stronger and more durable than immunity via vaccination. In the chart below from a Danish study, the green line is protection over time from vaccine only, the orange line is from infection only and the yellow line is from infection plus vaccine.
This suggests there is little additional protection to be gained from being vaccinated, particularly once infected. Furthermore, the vaccines are not without risks, with the JCVI in September advising against vaccinating 12-15 year-olds owing to the low severity of the disease in the young and the serious adverse events like myocarditis which are “still in the process of being described”, so that “substantial uncertainty remains regarding the health risks associated with these adverse events”. Side-effects have also been found to be more common in those previously infected, making the mass vaccination of a young population with high prior infection rates particularly low gain and high risk. In Vietnam, the government reports that four children have so far died following a reaction to the Pfizer vaccine.
Isn’t it better for schoolchildren to be exposed to these viruses and variants so they can build up immunity to them? Since when did we vaccinate children against colds and flu – and close schools in the winter because they get the sniffles? Pressurising parents to vaccinate their children with vaccines for which the safety profile is, as the JCVI advised, highly uncertain, against a disease which is no real threat to them, under threat of closing schools if too many of them get sick, is not a medically or ethically sound policy.