The child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection – Declaration of the Rights of the Child, 1990
THE Covid-19 pandemic and its management has become one of the most contentious issues in a generation. One of the biggest difficulties for the public has been the frequent shifting of the goalposts by the government and the lack of clear published data to support many of the measures they have introduced. One of the most serious aspects has been the silencing of any questions and the consequent divisions created within society and even within families. Nothing exemplifies this more than the issue of vaccination of children.
Last year, the first chair of the Government’s Vaccine Task Force, Kate Bingham, was clear that the vaccines would be rolled out to older adults and those with health vulnerabilities, and we were led to understand that this group accounted for 99 per cent of deaths in the first pandemic wave. This was reiterated by Matt Hancock, then Secretary of State for Health, and by Chris Whitty, chief medical officer.
The public at that time were seemingly happy with this strategy, but a vociferous group pushing a ‘zero-covid’ policy have successfully created a demand for younger and younger people to be vaccinated. Covid passes were rejected by the Public Accounts and Constitution Committee as discriminatory and divisive and by the hospitality industry and arts sector as unworkable; nevertheless, the government is now intent on introducing vaccine passports, a much more intrusive measure which fails to recognise the strength of naturally acquired immunity and will lead to the exclusion of many citizens from large-scale events after the end of this month (details yet to be published). Indeed, in France, unvaccinated people are denied access even to small cafes and public transport and in Israel there are reports of schools saying they will not reopen until more than 70 per cent of children are vaccinated. In Australia, there are calls for the unvaccinated to be denied health care and access to the economy.
Meanwhile, both the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Public Health England have acknowledged that vaccination does not prevent transmission of Sars-CoV-2, so there is no scientific basis for segregating populations according to their vaccination status. Moreover, it is apparent that vaccine immunity is waning, unlike naturally acquired immunity which appears to be broader and more robust. Booster shots will soon be the order of the day.
Set against this background, the suggestion that the vaccines should be rolled out to children, despite the extremely low impact of Covid-19 in this age group, is extremely concerning. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have been clear that any marginal benefit is insufficient to recommend vaccinating healthy children, given the known adverse events, especially myocarditis, and the lack of information on the long-term outcomes for children thus affected, quite apart from the total lack of data on other potential future adverse effects. Yet the clamour continues.
A group of 60 UK doctors and scientists wrote to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in May expressing our concerns. Their reply was vague and further supplementary questions were submitted. A further letter to the JCVI (which can be found here) elicited a reply stating that safety was the remit of the MHRA!
When the JCVI finally published their decision on July 19, recommending the vaccine only for those children with specific health vulnerabilities, many parents momentarily heaved a sigh of relief. But two weeks later, the vaccine rollout was extended to 16- and 17-year-olds, with no additional data presented. This coincided with a huge celebrity advertising campaign, plus inducements such as free football tickets and pizzas, and the announcement of nightclub vaccine passports. The JCVI were clearly under pressure to extend the programme to 12-15-year-olds, with schools and local vaccination services being told to prepare for this to start as early as September 6.
But earlier this week after further examination of the evidence, including a conference call to a group of paediatric cardiologists in the US, the JCVI repeated their advice against routine vaccination of children. However, they passed the decision to the four chief medical officers of the United Kingdom to look at the wider societal impact.
It has been suggested that vaccination could reduce future educational disruption. But of course such disruption to date came not from Covid-19 itself but only from the decision to isolate healthy school contacts, extending often to whole year groups. One million children were sent home in July at a time when the so-called ‘pingdemic’ was also causing disproportionate problems for adults. Given that this policy has now been reversed and as of August 16 only household contacts are affected, it would seem much simpler and indeed safer to let schools go back to normal as planned.
Since schools were never the main driver of transmission and given that all adults who wish it have now received their first dose of vaccine, plus the fact that the majority of children have already been repeatedly exposed to Sars-CoV-2 and have demonstrable immunity, it is hard to see any justification for giving children a vaccine which looks to cause them more harm than benefit.
Where is a society when adults forget their responsibility to protect children?
What follows is the open letter sent on Monday to the UK’s chief medical officers (CMOs), signed by myself and 60 other doctors and scientists, appealing to them to abide by the principle of ‘first do no harm’.
September 6, 2021
Open letter to:
Professor Chris Whitty – CMO England.
Michael McBride – CMO Northern Ireland.
Gregor Smith – CMO Scotland.
Frank Atherton – CMO Wales.
Dear Professor Whitty, Dr McBride, Dr Smith and Dr Atherton,
We are a group of 60 British doctors and scientists who have grave concerns about the balance of risk for Covid-19 vaccination of healthy children.
The JCVI in their statement on 19th July said that ‘any decision on deployment of vaccines must be made on the basis that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks to those people who are vaccinated’, placing the safety of the young in a primary position and drawing attention to ‘rare but serious adverse events’: based on a balanced view of the available evidence, they stated clearly that: ‘the health benefits in this population are small, and the benefits to the wider population are highly uncertain. At this time, JCVI is of the view that the health benefits of universal vaccination in children and young people below the age of 18 years do not outweigh the potential risks’.
Professor Whitty in a press conference earlier in the year had made clear that because of the known though rare side effects of the vaccines and the clear relationship between Covid-19 severity and age, there would be an age below which the balance between benefit and risk would reverse, probably at around 18 years of age. The guidance that children at particularly high risk from Covid-19, such that the benefit was likely to outweigh any risks, would be offered vaccination, seemed a logical position, clarifying the compassionate grounds in the previous JCVI guidance.
We were therefore extremely puzzled when two weeks later, new guidance was issued for the rollout to include healthy 16-17-year-olds but with no new data presented to explain this change in guidance. In a further statement on September 3rd the JCVI have looked again at the safety data and have reiterated that any benefit of vaccination for healthy 12-15s would be marginal and that ‘there is considerable uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the potential harms’.
We note that the Israeli data show a myocarditis risk to young men aged 20-24 after the 2nd dose of Pfizer at 1 in 10,463, rising to 1 in 6,230 for 16-19s. It is therefore particularly concerning that while the 16-17s are only being offered one dose in the first instance (presumably out of concern for this risk), all 18-25s are continuing to be offered a second dose. A recent report of 63 cases of vaccination-associated myocarditis in under 21s from the US, showed significant abnormalities on Cardiac Magnetic Resonance imaging, noted to be more severe than that seen previously in children with MISC-C. There is no long-term follow-up available on these children. Aside from the risks of myocarditis, there are also reports of microvascular clotting following mRNA vaccines, raising the possibility of pulmonary hypertension in future and no long-term safety data, particularly regarding autoimmune disease, carcinogenesis and any possible effects on future fertility.
The decision has now been passed to you, the four CMOs, to consider the impact on wider society and on disruption to education. Recent data has been published by both PHE and the CDC showing that viral loads / transmission rates are similar between vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals, making any consideration of societal benefits fruitless. We also now know that naturally acquired immunity gives broader and better lasting protection than that afforded by vaccination. Vaccines are not required to prevent the educational disruption of school closures and/or isolation of healthy contacts, measures which have already been safely discontinued since 16th August. This would be using vaccination for political rather than health reasons.
We would ask that the CMOs remember the principle of First do no Harm.
Dr Rosamond Jones, MBBS, MD, FRCPCH, retired consultant paediatrician
-Professor Anthony J Brookes, Department of Genetics & Genome Biology, University of Leicester
-Professor Richard Ennos, MA, PhD. Honorary Professorial Fellow, University of Edinburgh
-Professor Karol Sikora, MA, MBBChir, PhD, FRCR, FRCP, FFPM, Dean of Medicine, Buckingham University, Professor of Oncology
-Professor David Livermore, BSc, PhD, Professor of Medical Microbiology, University of East Anglia
-Professor Keith Willison, PhD, Professor of Chemical Biology, Imperial, London
-Professor Angus Dalgleish, MD, FRCP, FRACP, FRCPath, FMed Sci, Professor of Oncology, St Georges Hospital, London
-Dr Theresa Lawrie, MBBCh, PhD, Director, Evidence-Based Medicine Consultancy Ltd, Bath
-Dr Karen Horridge, MBChB(Hons), MSc, MRCP, FRCPCH, Consultant Paediatrician (Disability)
-Professor John Fairclough FRCS FFSEM, retired Honorary Consultant Surgeon
-Professor Norman Fenton, CEng, CMath, PhD, FBCS, MIET, Professor of Risk Information Management, Queen Mary University of London
-Professor John Watkins, Consultant Epidemiologist Cardiff University
-Lord Moonie, MBChB, MRCPsych, MFCM, MSc, House of Lords, former parliamentary under-secretary of state 2001-2003, former consultant in Public Health Medicine
-Dr Roland Salmon, MB BS, MRCGP, FFPH, Consultant Epidemiologist (retired), former Director, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (Wales)
-Dr Alan Mordue, MBChB, FFPH, Retired Consultant in Public Health Medicine & Epidemiology
-Dr John Flack, BPharm, PhD. Retired Director of Safety Evaluation, Beecham Pharmaceuticals 1980-1989 and senior vice-president for Drug Discovery 1990-92 SmithKline Beecham
-Dr Gerry Quinn, PhD, Postdoctoral researcher in microbiology and immunology
-Mr Anthony Hinton, MBChB, FRCS, Consultant ENT surgeon, London
-Dr Geoffrey Maidment, MBBS, MD, FRCP, retired consultant physician
-Mr Malcolm Loudon, MBChB, MD, FRCSEd, FRCS(Gen Surg), MIHM,VR, Consultant Surgeon
-Dr Christina Peers, MBBS,DRCOG,DFSRH,FFSRH, Consultant in Reproductive Health
-Dr Noel Thomas, MA, MBChB, DCH, DObsRCOG, DTM&H, MFHom, retired doctor
-Dr Elizabeth Evans MA(Cantab), MBBS, DRCOG, Retired Doctor
-Katherine MacGilchrist, BSc (Hons), MSc, CEO/Systematic Review Director, Epidemica Ltd
-Dr Greta Mushet, MBChB, MRCPsych, retired Consultant Psychiatrist in Psychotherapy
-Mr James Royle, MBChB, FRCS, MMedEd, Colorectal surgeon
-Mr Ian F Comaish, MA, BM BCh, FRCOphth, FRANZCO, Consultant ophthalmologist
-Dr Helen Westwood MBChB MRCGP DCH DRCOG, General Practitioner
-Dr Jonathan Engler, MBChB, LlB (hons), DipPharmMed
-Dr Renée Hoenderkampf, General Practitioner
-Mr Colin Natali, Consultant Spinal Surgeon
-Dr Branko Latinkic, BSc, PhD, Reader in Biosciences
-Dr Kulvinder Singh Manik, MBBS, General Practitioner
-Dr Michael D Bell, MBChB, MRCGP, retired General Practitioner
-Dr Jason Lester, MRCP, FRCR, Consultant Clinical Oncologist, Rutherford Cancer Centre, Newport
-Dr Clare Craig, BMBCh, FRCPath, Pathologist
-Dr Scott McLachan, FAIDH, MCSE, MCT, DSysEng, LLM, MPhil, Postdoctoral researcher, Risk & Information Group
-Michael Cockayne, MSc, PGDip, SCPHNOH, BA, RN, Occupational health practitioner
-Dr Alan Black, MBBS, MSc, DipPharmMed, retired pharmaceutical physician
-Dr Mark A Bell, MBChB, MRCP(UK), FRCEM, Consultant in Emergency Medicine
-Dr Livia Tossici-Bolt, PhD, NHS Clinical Scientist
-Dr Zac Cox, BDS, LCPH, Holistic Dentist, Homeopath
-Dr Emma Brierly, MRCGP, General Practitioner
-Dr Sarah Myhill, MBBS, Dip NM, Retired GP, Independent Naturopathic Physician