Sunderland families face “difficult decisions” as Covid jabs offered to children

Vaccination of secondary school children will be a “positive if it reduces disruption to education” but has presented many families with a “difficult dilemma”.

That’s the view of Sunderland City Council’s Children, Learning and Skills portfolio holder, Cllr Louise Farthing, following the Government’s decision to open up Covid jabs for 12-15-year-olds as part of its Winter Plan.

Cllr Farthing said: “There has been a lot of disruption throughout the pandemic caused to children’s education – particularly in secondary schools – which has put them at a disadvantage and so there’s certainly an argument for saying it’s a good thing.

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“Although there may only be marginal health benefits for this age group, if it means more people have immunity, reduces transmission and prevents disruption to education, that would be welcomed.

Council leaders hope the vaccination of 12-15-year-olds will help to reduce Covid transmission in schools and prevent further disruption to education.

"However it’s down to individual families to make this decision, and my understanding is that for it to really have a significant impact then uptake needs to be high, otherwise some children are going to be vaccinated and still face the risk of disruption."

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With vaccinations set to begin in schools next week, parental consent will be sought with the caveat that children who can prove they understand the risks and benefits can ask for the vaccine - or refuse it - if they disagree with their parents.

It’s a situation which Cllr Farthing believes will cause tension in and plunge many households into conflict.

Sunderland City Council's portfolio holder for Children, Learning and Skills, Cllr Louise Farthing, hopes the vaccination of 12-15-year-olds will reduce disruption to education but believes it has also put many families in a difficult situation.

She said: “I don’t envy parents and this has placed many families into a difficult situation which could inevitably cause tension between parents and this age group. I’m not sure what my grandson will choose but at the end of the day it has to be his decision.

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”It‘s very short notice for families, with little time for deliberation, and parents and children must decide what’s the right choice for them.”

The decision to vaccinate children – who are far less susceptible to Covid – was much less clear-cut than adults who are at far greater risk of developing serious illness.

Only a week ago the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) said it could not recommend the vaccine for children under 16 based on health grounds alone when balanced against the small risk of side-effects.

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However the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) have advised one dose of the Pfizer vaccine for 12-15-year-olds based on the wider benefits of reducing transmission, preventing disruption to education and subsequent impact on mental health.

Prof Chris Whitty said it was a "difficult decision" but that it could be an “important and useful tool in reducing school disruption in the coming months”.

The decision has been welcomed by the regions council leaders, including Cllr Graeme Miller representing Sunderland, Cllr Amanda Hopgood representing Durham and Cllr Tracey Dixon, leader of South Tyneside.

A joint statement from LA7 leaders – the combined Local Authority for the North East – said: “We are pleased that plans have been approved for 12-15-year-olds to receive Covid vaccines. We know vaccines are effective at not only reducing our chances of serious illness, but they also help reduce transmission and that could be pivotal in helping to prevent outbreaks in teaching environments that could also spread to households and the wider community.

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"The benefits of these vaccinations for 12-15-year olds outweigh the risks.” 

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