DR NIGHAT ARIF: As a GP, I’d allow all three of my children to have vaccine… and I strongly believe coverage should be extended to include a much bigger age range
Covid vaccines have been a remarkable success, but if we are to enhance public safety and return to normality, we must build on that achievement.
That means not only the provision of booster jabs to maintain their effectiveness – particularly in the face of new variants – but also, just as crucially, the extension of the programme to children.
At present, jabs are offered to those over 12 only if they are clinically vulnerable, but I strongly believe coverage should be extended to include a much bigger age range, including healthy youngsters, just as the US, Brazil, China and Germany are doing.
Based on hard evidence from around the world, the case for this policy is irrefutable.
For a start, it would reduce the seriousness of the disease’s impact and the potential for long-term complications.
Pictured: Dr Nighat Arif who says she would vaccinate all three of her children
Government Ministers had hoped to vaccinate children during the school holidays to prevent a repeat of the massive disruption seen in schools over the past 18 months (stock image)
It is true that children are at the lowest risk from the virus, but my colleagues and I are now seeing growing numbers of cases of ‘Long Covid’ in children – which can lead to months of chronic fatigue, breathlessness, chest tightness and painful headaches.
I am currently dealing with one patient, a 15-year-old boy who – until Covid struck – had only a mild form of asthma, and whose management involved regular medication and an annual check-up.
Now, after contracting the virus, he is facing a much more difficult immediate future. As his condition has worsened, he has been hospitalised with pneumonia and even put on a ventilator. If he had been vaccinated, it is unlikely any of this would have happened.
In addition to giving individual protection, the inoculation of children would cut the transmission of the disease to the wider community, helping to build defensive shields around families, schools and beyond, and reducing the risk of new variants developing.
That would be good news for everyone, especially the most vulnerable adults.
Vaccines for all are the best kind of preventative medicine and the surest route to the goal of herd immunity.
Indeed, I wish I could give them to my three children as a means of mutual protection in our home – a vital concern because my six-year-old son is highly vulnerable, having had a liver transplant.
But, like all under-12s and regardless of circumstances, he is ineligible at present.
There is far too much lurid, paranoid scaremongering about vaccines for children.
Ever since Edward Jenner conquered smallpox in the 18th century with the world’s first vaccine, the science of immunisation has been well explored and understood.
For the purpose of improving public health, we already safely administer a number of other vaccines to children from infancy, starting with the Rotavirus jab from just eight weeks, followed by the MMR at one year (with a booster at three years old) and then the flu nasal drops given annually from two.
So where is the logic in suddenly drawing a line at a Covid vaccine? Far from protecting children, misplaced anxiety about vaccines can have a devastating impact, as shown by the scare in the late 1990s over the MMR jab, when it was falsely linked to autism.
The fall in inoculations led to severe outbreaks of measles and mumps, the latter an illness which I thought had been largely eliminated in Britain, and which can have devastating side-effects and in rare cases cause death.
We cannot allow the same to happen with Covid. Nor is that what the wider public – more sensible than the anti-vaxxers – want.
One recent survey by the Office for National Statistics showed that 90 per cent of parents would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ agree to inoculate their child.
Apart from the worrying health implications of vaccine hesitancy, there are also the economic and social consequences.
A failure to use every possible medical resource against Covid means that we will have to resort to other methods to contain the disease.
In practice, that will require a return to draconian lockdowns and restrictions, thereby hurting the economy with all the knock-on effects that follow.
The disruption to our children’s education and social relationships has a profound impact on their life chances and, of course, their mental health.
As a society, we should be moving in precisely the opposite direction, towards greater freedom – and vaccines for children can help get us there.
We know vaccines protect lives and prevent severe disease. Let’s extend their use.
Dr Nighat Arif is a GP in Buckinghamshire and a regular contributor to BBC Breakfast
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