Children as young as 12 will be able to defy their parents to get the Covid-19 jab provided a clinician deems they are “competent” to make the decision, a minister said Tuesday.
Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said that ultimately it could be down to the child to decide as the Government extends the jabs programme to millions of 12 to 15-year-olds. He believes clashes between parents and children are likely to be a “very rare occurrence” and stressed that a clinician would seek to resolve any dispute.
However, Professor Helen Bedford, an expert in child health at University College London and spokeswoman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, believes it may be a “little optimistic” to believe there will be so few such cases, telling the Standard: “We don’t know if it’s going to be a rare event or not.”
Fewer children aged 12 may be regarded as “competent” to make such a decision than older teenagers, another expert said.
Ministers are encouraging families to opt for it and the first dose for this age group is set to be delivered by next Wednesday. But Mr Zahawi sought to reassure children that they will not be “stigmatised” if they decide against it.
In other developments:
Booster doses will start to be administered from next week, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons.
He is understood to have accepted the recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on booster jabs for all adults aged 50 and over, those in a care home, and their carers, frontline health workers and other vulnerable people.
The third jab will be administered “where possible” with a flu jab.
Boris Johnson was due to unveil his Covid winter blueprint, with Plan A focusing on vaccination and testing, and if this fails to stop a big wave of infections, Plan B could see the return of working from home guidance and mask-wearing, with ministers saying “lockdowns would be a last resort”.
The UK faces a “rough winter” due to the combination of Covid, flu and other respiratory conditions, said Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool university.
Mr Zahawi stressed the roll-out of jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds would be led by clinicians through the School Age Immunisation Service, not teachers.
He told Sky News: “Children will have a leaflet that they can share with their parents and of course we have a consent form that will go to them.
“On the very rare occasion where there is a difference of opinion between the parent and the 12-15 year-old... then the first step is the clinician will bring the parent and the child together to see whether they can reach consent.
“If that is not possible, then if the child is deemed to be competent — and this has been around since the Eighties for all vaccination programmes in schools — then the child can have the vaccine.”
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the JCVI, stressed there will be a “grade of competency” based on age.
He said he would not feel “comfortable” allowing a 12-year-old to have the jab if their parent had not consented.
He told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If the child wants to go ahead or doesn’t want to and the parent feels absolutely the opposite, then the clinician involved in administering the vaccine needs to be sure that the child is competent to make that decision.
“Fourteen to 15-year-olds may be deemed competent to make that decision on their own, it’s less likely that a 12 or 13-year-old will be deemed competent.” Professor Bedford said school immunisation nurses were highly unlikely to deliver jabs without parental consent.
One London GP said it was “not normal” for a child to attend a vaccine appointment with a parent with both in dispute about whether to proceed.
She said: “If a family decide not to vaccinate their child, that will be decided at home and we won’t get to the child. It’s not our role to police that.”
However, Vauxhall MP Florence Eshalomi raised concerns about the low take-up of the vaccine among black and minority ethnic communities.
She told MPs: “They are the same communities that will be hesitant about their children coming forward.
“They will be the same communities, if the vaccines have to be administered in school, that will make sure their children do not go to school that day.”
The JCVI concluded there was a “marginal health benefit” for children with no underlying health concerns being jabbed but stopped short of approving a mass roll-out given it was so small.