Allowing children to catch Covid may be better than exposing them to the "risk" of vaccines, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said.
Professor Robert Dingwall said children may be “better protected by natural immunity generated through infection than by asking them to take the ‘possible’ risk of a vaccine”.
The government scientist, who sits on the JCVI group which advises on vaccines, said the ongoing rise in cases among young people and children may constitute a “last wave” of mild infections.
He suggested this could be a better way to build immunity in teenagers, who are at “intrinsically low risk from Covid” than to consider exposing them to any potential risks from a jab.
The JCVI has been asked to draw up advice for ministers, about whether those aged between 12 and 18 should be vaccinated.
Last month The Telegraph revealed that the group was unwilling to give such actions the green light, at least until there is more global data assessing their safety in children.
The Government has procured enough Pfizer jabs to vaccinate all children aged between 12 and 17.
But it awaits a formal recommendation from the JCVI, some of whose members have raised concerns about the risks of such a programme.
Alternatives under discussion include offering jabs to those aged 16 and 17, and to younger children suffering from health conditions which make them more vulnerable.
Health officials and paediatricians are currently carrying out work examining the risks of Covid to children with underlying health problems.
On Wednesday, Prof Dingwall, a social scientist who sits on a subcommittee of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) as well as on the JCVI, spoke out – he said the “risk/benefit for teenagers must be firmly established” before any decisions were taken.
In a detailed Twitter thread, he said: “Teenagers are at intrinsically low risk from Covid. Vaccines must be exceptionally safe to beat this. Given the low risk of Covid for most teenagers, it is not immoral to think that they may be better protected by natural immunity generated through infection than by asking them to take the possible risk of a vaccine.”
Prof Dingwall said the pandemic “would end through population immunity, whether from vaccination or prior infection”.
And he said: “A last wave of mild infections in unvaccinated younger people may well be what we are now seeing.”
It came after Sage scientist Professor John Edmunds said he thought that Britain should not fully re-open until all secondary school children had been vaccinated.
He told BBC Newsnight: “At some point we do have to dismantle all of these measures that we’ve put in place.
“I think, for me, the safest time to do that is when children have been vaccinated, certainly secondary-school-aged children at least. That’s the safest way.”
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Last month, fellow JCVI member Professor Adam Finn said vaccinating children had not been ruled out, but said: “Vaccines have side-effects, so if we can control this virus without immunising children we shouldn’t immunise children as a matter of principle.”
Two weeks ago, Professor Anthony Harden, the JCVI’s deputy chairman, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: "We do have to be absolutely sure these vaccines are completely safe. The MHRA [Medicines and healthcare Regulatory Products Agency] said they are safe in trials, but of course that’s very different to immunising millions of children.
"We’ll be looking very carefully at the data emerging from the States and other countries on vaccines in children before making any assumptions, but we’re not there yet with children,” he said.
Prof Dingwall, who sits on Nervtag, a Sage subcommittee, also suggested that it was “well past time to panic about infection rates and to publish them obsessively.”
While daily case figures continue rising, reaching 26,068 on Wednesday, a high not seen since January, death rates and hospitalisations are nowhere near the levels seen during previous surges of Covid, with latest daily figures showing 14 deaths and 263 hospitalisations.
Prof Dingwall said: “Even hospitalisation rates are increasingly misleading as better therapy reduces length of stay. Covid is now a long way from being an important cause of mortality.”
He also suggested those taking decisions might do well to remember that “medicine cannot deliver immortality and it is profoundly damaging to society to imply that it can”.
“We are all going to die one day – the question is when and how,” he wrote.
And he raised concern about the idea of maintaining any restrictions or controls in a bid to reduce the spread of all respiratory infections.
Scientists have warned that Britain could face a worse flu season this year, or even an out-of -season epidemic, because lockdowns and social distancing last winter mean the population has less immunity.
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