As part of the latest phase of the NHS’ vaccination drive, all five to 11 year olds in England are being invited to book their Covid jabs. The development – already rolled out in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – means that almost five million children can now be protected from potential infections.
“Thankfully most children do not get seriously unwell from Covid-19 but some children do get hospitalised,” says GP Dr Rachel Ward, who insists it’s important to remember that some children can become seriously unwell from Covid, even though most only show mild symptoms.
“We also know that children can get long Covid – and there is strong evidence that vaccination reduces your risk of developing this potentially debilitating condition.”
Dr Ward also points out that it still benefits those children who have already had Covid. “Having an infection does lead to natural immunity,” she says.
“But that does not mean vaccination isn't beneficial. People respond differently to infections and the level of immune response cannot be predicted. Studies have shown that natural immunity to Covid is improved if you receive a vaccine despite previous infection,” adds Dr Ward.
Government guidance recommends that children receive two doses of the low-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – containing a third of the adult dose – at periods 12 weeks apart. For children with medical conditions, or those living with someone with a weakened immune system, this is reduced to eight weeks apart.
What about side effects?
“Side effects from any vaccine that lead to long term health problems are incredibly rare and compared to the long term effects of Covid, the vaccine is beneficial,” insists Dr Ward. “With so many countries already vaccinating children, these side effects are very well understood.”
As the biggest vaccination rollout in NHS history continues, parents and carers wanting to vaccinate their children should wait to be contacted by their local NHS team.
“I have a weakened immune system”
Nursery worker Leanne Paragreen, 42, from Rutland has one daughter Sophie, 11. Sophie has already received her vaccine.
“I have a weakened immune system after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May 2020, so it was really important for Sophie to get vaccinated
As I was diagnosed at the beginning of lockdown, Covid restrictions meant that I had to attend my chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions alone. Battling the treatment’s side effects, like tiredness and sickness, was tough – all I wanted was the support of my family. The nurses were great, but spending long days at the hospital without my loved ones was horrible.
Thankfully I’ve been in remission for 16 months, but it’s taught me how lonely Covid restrictions can be. So I’ll do anything to help stop the virus spreading to help stop others going through what I did.
I explained the decision to Sophie and she was on board with having the vaccine – she wanted to help protect those around her. The only thing that worried her was the needle!
On the day of the jab, me and the nurses spent 20 minutes coaxing Sophie over her needle fear with some breathing exercises. It worked so well, afterwards she said: “Have you done it yet?” – she didn’t even notice the prick.
As soon as it was over, she felt safer knowing she had the extra level of protection. It was a high relief hearing her say “Oh, I feel better about having the next one”. I have no regrets.”
“I’m worried about the long term implications”
Hairdresser Hayley Fowler, 44, from Norfolk, has three daughters Ivi, 9, Sybil, 8, and Robyn, 7. She won’t be vaccinating them.
“Although my three girls are up to date with all their other jabs, I won’t be vaccinating them against Covid, I’m too worried we don’t know enough about the long term outcomes. I’m concerned about the quick roll out and any potential side effects, such as myocarditis (an inflammation of the heart) and pericarditis (swelling around the tissue of the heart) which I’ve heard a lot about.
Because I know that elderly people are the age group most likely to suffer the worst from Covid, I think the potential risks of vaccinating my children outweigh the benefits in my opinion.
All three children had Covid in February, with very mild symptoms. My middle daughter, Sybil, said that she didn’t feel very well. I wasn’t too concerned but tested her to be responsible and make sure she didn’t go to school and spread it. Sure enough she was positive and of course I kept her at home.
Three days later Ivi and Robyn tested positive but were totally asymptomatic.
I’m happy knowing they’ve developed natural immunity with their antibodies from the virus, so I’m cautious of injecting something else into their body. I’ll keep up to date with different developments relating to the vaccine, but I won’t be rushing into jabbing them given we won’t know the future effects for a while.”
For more information about the vaccine, visit gov.uk or nhs.uk.
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