The Danish Health Authority expects that the number of COVID-19 infections will increase during autumn and winter. Therefore, we recommend vaccination of people aged 50 years and over as well as selected risk groups.
It’s true that the “selected risk groups” include healthcare workers and those vulnerable. Also buried in the text is the recommendation that those between 40 and 50 should finish any vaccination course started. But the overall message is clear: vaccination is for the over-50s.
Compare the Danish advice – “Children and adolescents rarely become severely ill from the Omicron variant of COVID-19” – with that of the NHS – “Two doses are being offered to all children aged 12 to 15, and some aged 5 to 11, to give them the best protection against COVID-19”.
The Danish advice shouldn’t surprise us. From the first days of Covid, those who looked at the numbers saw that Covid has two completely different faces: to the young it is irrelevant; only to the old and infirm can it present a significant risk.
Why does that matter nowadays? Because to ignore that basic arithmetic is to present ourselves with financial burdens which are both substantial and unnecessary. By advocating vaccination to the under-50s, by extending it even to young children of five years and over, the NHS is targeting about 32 million more people than under Denmark’s rules. Denmark is a comparatively rich country with GDP per capita more than 20% larger than the U.K. Yet, having assessed the evidence, Denmark baulks at vaccinating the under-50s. How much more should we in the U.K., with our straitened economy, be alert to this poor use of public funds?
Published figures give us only partial insight into the costs of vaccination. The National Audit Office report put a figure of £11.7 billion on the 267 million “potential COVID-19 vaccine doses secured by the U.K. Government’s signed contracts”. That works out at £44 a dose.
As for the ongoing costs, part of that will be the purchase costs of the vaccine. AstraZeneca agreed to make no profit from the initial rollout of the vaccine and take profits from ongoing sales. Initially, the U.K. Government was paying £3 per dose but, in view of the initial agreement, it is hard to imagine AstraZeneca keeping these prices to that level when the other vaccines are about £15 a dose. It would be unrealistic optimism to imagine the U.K. programme acquiring vaccine at less than £15 a dose, particularly as AstraZeneca is barely used anymore, particularly in younger people. Then there are the costs of delivering the vaccine: the latest figures I can find are of GPs being paid £12.58 per Covid vaccine jab administered. Together with NHS overheads, a reasonable estimate for the total cost per Covid vaccine dose is around £30.
The U.K. decision to continue a vaccination programme to the 32 million under 50s, at an estimated cost of £30 per dose, thus comes in at a figure of around £1 billion.
Let’s compare this with other things the NHS could spend £1 billion on. Cancer care, for instance. The annual total costs of cancer care are around £5 billion. So, by having a Covid vaccination programme which includes those 32 million under-50s who are at very low risk of suffering from Covid, the NHS is embarking on a course to spend an amount equal to up to a fifth of the cancer budget on something that Denmark isn’t even doing. True, only a portion of the 32 million will take up the jab, but in principle the NHS is committed to injecting all of them.
The answer is clear. We should stop vaccinating the healthy under-50s; it’s a huge waste of scarce public funds that would be better spent on other much more pressing health needs.