Last month, the offer of Covid-19 vaccinations began to be rolled out universally to young people aged 12-15 in Gloucestershire and around the country. This extended an offer previously made to 12-15 with specific underlying health conditions that put them at risk of serious COVID-19. In Gloucestershire, the rollout is being delivered in schools by Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust’s school vaccination team, and in addition some GP-led Primary Care Network (PCN) vaccination sites are offering drop-in clinics for 12 to 15 year olds.
As throughout the pandemic, this rollout has been accompanied by considerable disinformation and attempts to mislead. We have previously seen leaflets being circulated to people’s houses locally, in Stroud High Street, and online. However, this week we learned that pupils had been leafletted at the gates to Archway secondary school on Monday November 1st 2021, and opponents of vaccination had attempted to “serve” some sort of pseudo-legal “notice” on the headteacher. We have since heard that on Thursday 4th November similar leafleting was taking place at Marling and Stroud High schools.
In this statement we want to signpost to credible sources of information, and encourage members of our community to be careful when considering information shared on this topic.
Before we get to that, we’d like to begin by noting the words of the Chief Medical Officers – including Chris Whitty in England – in their recent letter recommending the government extend the offer of Covid-19 vaccinations to all young people aged 12-15, rather than only those with particular health conditions:
“It is essential that children and young people aged 12 to 15 and their parents are supported in their decisions, whatever decisions they take, and are not stigmatised either for accepting, or not accepting, the vaccination offer. Individual choice should be respected.”Taken from the Letter from the UK Chief Medical Officers to the UK Health Ministers on COVID-19 vaccination of 12 to 15 year olds (13th September 2021)
We believe it is possible to emphasise the importance of individual choice, whilst also criticising those who spread misinformation about the benefits and risks of vaccination in the strongest terms.
We offer the resources below in an effort to counter false or misleading information.
- This piece by Immunologist Andrew Croxford explains why we can be confident in the long-term safety of the Covid-19 vaccines based “on our understanding of immunization at the mechanistic level, along with the huge quantity of available efficacy and safety information”.
- The British Society for Immunology have a guide to childhood vaccinations. This covers how vaccines work, common questions, and vaccine myths. They also provide a specific guide to vaccinations for COVID-19. This includes “Common questions about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19” including how the vaccine works, and why mRNA vaccines cannot alter your DNA.
- There are a number of basic fact-checks regarding claims around Covid-19 vaccines collated by Fullfact, for example. These include a piece particularly on misrepresentation of data around side-effects experienced by 12-15 year olds in clinical trials (most involve mild-moderate sore arm only) and “The Pfizer vaccine, teenagers and myocarditis”. The latter concludes, “It’s true that myocarditis does seem to be a “rare serious adverse event associated with receipt of mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines” but it has not led to any confirmed deaths in children. Because these serious reports were so rare, the CDC still recommends that children aged 12 and over in the USA should get the vaccine to help protect against Covid-19.” Another piece emphasises that “mRNA vaccines are distinct from gene therapy”.
- Summaries of the best available data on vaccine effectiveness against infection, transmission, hospital admission, or death are available from the Vaccine Effectiveness Expert Panel (on a monthly basis), and in the UK Health Security Agency vaccine surveillance reports (on a weekly basis)
- Julia Green, an education partner at law firm Browne Jacobson, has written a piece debunking the claims “that the school or headteacher will incur personal liability for any adverse reactions to the vaccine among children receiving it on school premises”
There are a also number of official sources for information on Covid-19 vaccines for this age group specifically that we are happy to signpost to
- Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust is responsible for this part of the vaccination programme (and also runs children’s flu and HPV vaccination programmes).
- They’ve made clear that “Information about the vaccination programme will be sent to young people and their families via schools, and consent will be gathered electronically prior to sessions taking place. Consent will be sought from the parent, guardian or carer in the same way as for any other school vaccination programme, at least 7 days before the date vaccinations are due. If there are any consent issues, these will be dealt with under the ‘Gillick Competency’ framework” (see NHS website).
- If you or your young person have any questions, you can email the team via GHCCovidMassVaccine@ghc.nhs.uk (they add “please note that they’re receiving a large number of enquiries at the moment and will do their best to respond as quickly as possible.”)
- COVID-19 vaccination programme for young people: guidance for parents (17th September). This page from the UK Health Security Agency covers “Why you should have your child vaccinated”, “Is it safe for young people?”, “How were the vaccines developed so quickly?”, “How vaccines in schools will work”, information about common and very rare side effects, and many other common questions.
- COVID-19 vaccination: a guide for eligible children and young people aged 12 to 17 (15th September). This was produced by Public Health England, and covers risks from Covid-19, protection from vaccination, consent, side-effects, and some key questions.
- COVID-19 vaccination: easy-read resources for children and young people (13th September). This covers information about Covid-19, vaccination, and what can happen after having the vaccine. It also explains other things you can do to keep protecting yourself from coronavirus. It is written to make it easier to understand for people with difficulty reading, and is focused on the initial rollout of vaccination to 12-15 year olds with particular health conditions.
- Letter from the UK Chief Medical Officers to the UK Health Ministers on COVID-19 vaccination of 12 to 15 year olds (13th September 2021). This covers the original previous work by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), explaining the reasons for their recommendation, and describing the advice received from independent expertise of leaders of the clinical and public health profession from across the UK). This concludes that “the view of the UK CMOs is that the additional likely benefits of reducing educational disruption, and the consequent reduction in public health harm from educational disruption, on balance provide sufficient extra advantage in addition to the marginal advantage at an individual level identified by the JCVI to recommend in favour of vaccinating this group”.
- The JCVI statement on COVID-19 vaccination of children aged 12 to 15 years (3rd September 2021). This details the “risk-benefit assessment of COVID-19 vaccination in those aged 12 to 15 years who do not have underlying health conditions that increase the risk of serious COVID-19 disease”, as well as including links to studies on the impact of SARS-COV-2 in children. This concluded “Overall, the committee is of the opinion that the benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms but acknowledges that there is considerable uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the potential harms” and added “JCVI is constituted with expertise to allow consideration of the health benefits and risks of vaccination and it is not within its remit to incorporate in-depth considerations on wider societal impacts, including educational benefits. The government may wish to seek further views on the wider societal and educational impacts from the chief medical officers of the 4 nations, with representation from JCVI in these subsequent discussions.”
- The MHRA statement covering their review of “clinical trial data in children aged 12 to 15 years” which “concluded that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in this age group and that the benefits of this vaccine outweigh any risk.” It summarises that, at the time, “Over 2000 children aged 12-15 years were studied as part of the randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trials. There were no cases of COVID-19 from 7 days after the second dose in the vaccinated group, compared with 16 cases in the placebo group. In addition, data on neutralising antibodies showed the vaccine working at the same level as seen in adults aged 16-25 years.”
- We note that there is frequent misrepresentation of the Yellow Card scheme for reporting potential side-effects from vaccination. We recommend people review the “Coronavirus vaccine – weekly summary of Yellow Card reporting” (at time of writing last updated on the 30th September), which details the best assessments of the MHRA with regard to known adverse reactions, but emphasises that “It is important to note that [raw] Yellow Card data cannot be used to derive side effect rates or compare the safety profile of COVID-19 vaccinations as many factors can influence ADR reporting. For all COVID-19 vaccines, the overwhelming majority of reports relate to injection-site reactions (sore arm for example) and generalised symptoms such as ‘flu-like’ illness, headache, chills, fatigue (tiredness), nausea (feeling sick), fever, dizziness, weakness, aching muscles, and rapid heartbeat. Generally, these happen shortly after the vaccination and are not associated with more serious or lasting illness. These types of reactions reflect the normal immune response triggered by the body to the vaccines. They are typically seen with most types of vaccine and tend to resolve within a day or two. The nature of reported suspected side effects is broadly similar across age groups, although, as was seen in clinical trials and as is usually seen with other vaccines, they may be reported more frequently in younger adults.”
- For the Pfizer vaccine, the weekly Yellow Card summary from MHRA notes: “The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was evaluated in clinical trials involving more than 44,000 participants. The most frequent adverse reactions in trials were pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, myalgia (muscle pains), chills, arthralgia (joint pains), and fever; these were each reported in more than 1 in 10 people. These reactions were usually mild or moderate in intensity and resolved within a few days after vaccination. Adverse reactions were reported less frequently in older adults (over 55 years) than in younger people.”
- Should anyone experience side effects they believe may be associated with vaccination, we of course encourage these to be reported to the Coronavirus Yellow Card reporting site, either directly or through a health professional.
- The New England Journal of Medicine published the results of the clinical trial of the relevant vaccine for 12-15 year olds in the UK, at “Safety, Immunogenicity, and Efficacy of the [Pfizzer-BioNTech] BNT162b2 Covid-19 Vaccine in Adolescents”, which can be read in full for free.