UEA virus expert's concern over Covid jabs for children under 16

Prof Paul Hunter, from the UEA, has encouraged people to donate to the WHO's Covid-19 Response Fund

Prof Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. - Credit: UEA

A virus expert at the University of East Anglia has urged caution over any decision to give coronavirus vaccinations to teenagers under 16, saying there is not yet enough data to be clear about possible side effects.

Prof Paul Hunter, from the UEA's medical school, gave evidence at a session of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, where he was asked about vaccination of children.

The UK has begun rolling out a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab to 16 to 17-year-olds after a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

No decision has been made on children aged from 12 to 15, and Prof Hunter said:  "One of the difficulties here, that we've not really considered, is actually, how many of those younger people are already immune from natural infection?"

He said there was very little data on children aged under 16. But he said data suggested that, among 17 year olds, between 80 to 90pc had probably either already had the disease and recovered from it or were incubating the disease and would develop antibodies within the next 10 days.

He said: "So, in terms of vaccinating 17 year olds, my concerns are why are we vaccinating an age group where a large majority of them have already had the infection and recovered?

"That has two issues. One is whether it's necessary to vaccinate that age group.

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"And two is do we know enough about potential side effects in teenagers who have already had the infection before they are vaccinated?

"We do know, from other studies, that if you have a natural infection and at least one dose of any of the vaccines, you have a pretty strong robust immune response, so that certainly one vaccine will undoubtedly increase the robustness of the response.

"But what the impact is around adverse reactions in that age group? We know very little about the impact on children under 16 and their antibody prevalence at the moment.

"I suspect, looking at the reported cases in younger teenagers they are probably getting to the point where about 50pc will have already had the infection and recovered."

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