Q&A: Deputy Chair of the JVCI on why 5-11 year olds should get a Covid jab

All five to 11-year-olds in Northern Ireland are to be offered a Covid vaccination after the latest advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The JCVI Deputy Chair Professor Anthony Harnden explains to UTV News reporter Sarah Clarke why they've made the recommendation.

Sarah Clarke: “Why should we vaccinate children given that Covid-19 is more serious in adults?”

Professor Anthony Harnden: “Well, you’re right - Covid is more serious in adults. Even so, very small numbers of children do get very unwell with Covid and are hospitalised.

“We have looked at the data very carefully on JCVI and we have come to the conclusion that children with underlying illnesses between the ages of 5 and 11, or living in a house with an immunosuppressed individual should be prioritised for vaccination.”

“But that parents should be given the choice of vaccinating children who are well to future proof them against potential future waves or variants that may arise.”

SC: “Is this a choice that parents make or are you actively encouraging them to do this?”

AH: “Well, we are encouraging but it is a choice. It’s not a hard sell as it were, it’s a non-urgent offer of vaccinating well 5 to 11 year olds.”

SC: “Would you vaccinate your own child?”

AH: “Oh yes, I think that on the balance of evidence, there is enough evidence to suggest that well children should be offered the vaccine.”

SC: “Okay, so no hesitation there, but there will be people out there who are concerned about possible side-effects from the vaccine itself. Can you allay those concerns?"

AH: “Most side effects that you get from a vaccine are mild and short-lived. The very rare side effects are extremely rare. And we’ve now looked at the data from 8 million children in the United States and concluded that the benefits of the vaccine far, far outweigh these extremely small risks.”

SC: “We appear to be moving out of the pandemic. Restrictions in Northern Ireland have this week been removed. Why then are you announcing vaccination for this section of children now?”

AH: “Because the paediatric vaccines become available. We’ve reviewed the data and we decided that it would be worth vaccinating these children because, although many of them have been exposed to Covid already, we know that giving vaccine as well as having had an infection gives you a much better hybrid immunity. I.e. a broad immune response to protect you against future variants.”

SC: “You talked about data there from the US – what about from other countries who have vaccinated this age group? What has it taught you? Has it reduced hospitalisations, community transmission, school absences?

AH: “The vaccines are highly effective at both reducing hospitalisations and preventing a thing called a MIS, a multi-inflammatory disorder, that children get that can make them very sick indeed. So yes, there’s good data now emerging on the effectiveness of these vaccines.”