While we may be returning to some sense of normality, the Prime Minister’s message is that Covid has not gone away, and he is clearly right. Several Covid-related issues have frequented my inbox, graced the floor of the house and hit our front pages.
On a positive note, it was announced that we won’t be required to show a Covid passport in England now. So, those who make the legitimate choice against having the vaccine will not be discriminated against for practicing their right to autonomy over their health. I had also been concerned that the introduction of this measure would really be the introduction of controversial ID cards ‘by the back door’. We should not have to wield ID cards to be able to participate in society, this is a basic right.
A difficult topic is children’s vaccination. The UK’s Chief Medical Officers have now announced that they will be offering children aged 12-15 a Covid vaccination. This is despite the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s conclusion that the benefits of the vaccination for children are negligible given healthy children are at such a low risk of severe illness with Covid.
These vaccinations are to be delivered in schools. Some concerns around consent and around a child’s understanding of the implications of the vaccination have arisen. According to Government guidance young people who fully understand what is involved (referred to as ‘Gillick competent’) can give consent, although ideally their parents will be involved. If a Gillick-competent child consents to, or refuses the vaccination, a parent can’t override this.
However, the Covid vaccination, is about more than just the health of the individual receiving the vaccine. This is a measure chiefly for public health. Therefore, does this principle still apply? Can we really rely on children being able to understand how their decision may affect others, as well as the other implications that this vaccination can hold for them? If parent and child disagree, it does not sit well to be forcing children to have vaccinations that they don’t want.
I also have concerns about the burden that hosting vaccinations will place on schools. Not only are they likely to be responsible for communicating with parents and students and negotiating this battlefield of consent, but there is a cost in resource and time involved in pulling this together. I am asking Ministers to confirm that schools will be compensated for any expense.
We have been told that booster vaccinations will be offered to all those in the Phase 1 priority group, following Israel’s lead. Though, it is questionable whether this is strictly necessary. Israel vaccinated its population with a much shorter gap between first and second vaccine. While it may have been necessary due to waning vaccine effectiveness there, the UK chose a different tack. There is some evidence to suggest that our delayed second dose lengthened efficacy. Meanwhile, there are many countries who would benefit enormously from these vaccines. While protecting our own population first makes sense, are we getting the balance right? This is a global pandemic, not a national one – and until the whole world has appropriate measures in place to deal with Covid, including vaccination programmes, we here, continue to be at risk of new variants able to flourish elsewhere.
The Health Secretary has also recently announced the Government’s ‘Plan B’. If the pressure on hospitals looks to be increasing towards unsustainable levels, the Government could once again introduce lockdown measures, in the first instance mandating mask wearing, advising home working, limiting public gatherings and bringing in Covid Passports. The NHS is always under pressure during the autumn and winter. With Covid becoming an endemic disease, with us forever, we need better solutions for managing pressure on the NHS than causing significant disruption to people’s lives, livelihoods and wellbeing.
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