12 August 2021

Parents should have the choice over whether to vaccinate their kids

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Although thankfully not all of us have lost a family member in this pandemic, everyone has lost the freedom to choose how to live our lives. Even leaving the house has been subject to state approval – a stricture now removed primarily due to the rollout of vaccines.

But given how much of our lives has now returned to relative normality, it is strange that the freedom to choose how to protect one’s own family is still being refused to millions of people; currently parents are not allowed to choose to have their children vaccinated against Covid.

Despite the protestations of enthusiastic Twitter users who are against this freedom to choose, a large fraction of parents – the people who should be making that choice – do want their children vaccinated. According to the ONS, ‘40% of primary school parents and 54% of secondary school parents would definitely want their child to have a #COVID19 vaccine if offered’. Including the unsure but ‘probably yes’ category, this rises to above 80%.

Having repeatedly seen that closed groups of experts very often make poor and ill-informed choices, it is remarkable that government policy continues to line up with the staggeringly overrepresented view of the 4% who definitely do not want their children to be vaccinated at all.

It is even stranger when the Government itself says that Pfizer’s vaccine is safe and effective for those aged 12+. Why are there two different layers of bureaucracy depriving people of freedom to choose? The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) should have no role in refusing to allow a safe and effective vaccine. To add insult to injury, that policy means our vaccination rates are now being overtaken by Canada and various European countries who are happy to let the under-16s have vaccines if they want them. Was it a marathon not a sprint after all?

Aside from the peace of mind of offering effective vaccines to children, something which is being done by Israel, the US and Ireland, it would also bring the UK closer to herd immunity, protecting those who are unable to be vaccinated because of their immunosuppressed status. This is not currently possible while only offering the vaccine to adults and over-16s. A simple change in the guidance, and the likely high take-up rate would get us over the present problem of not having enough people vaccinated to shield everyone from the virus.

Nor is this some fearful, authoritarian infringement on our liberties – it is simply about giving parents the choice to do what they think is best. In fact, it would further reduce the likelihood, although admittedly smaller now than pre-vaccine rollout, of future lockdowns or restrictions.

What are the objections then? The head of the Oxford Vaccine group has said that because children are at less risk of severe illness or hospitalisation because of Covid, the vaccines we have procured should be provided to vulnerable individuals in other countries with lower vaccination rates.. There is admittedly some merit to this view, but vaccine supply could easily be increased simply by spending more money on it. That argument also ignores the millions of vaccines already donated and the tens of millions paid for and pledged to less wealthy countries. Fundamentally, however, the British government is there to act on the interests and wishes of British people, just as the French or Bangladeshi government is charged with looking after their citizens.

Not every decision should be subject to government by opinion poll, but where the preferences of parents, the benefits to children and wider society and the vaccines being safe for them to receive all overlap, clearly the Government should be allowing the choice to be made by those who have the best interests of the recipients at heart.

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Jonathon Kitson is an independent forecaster and researcher.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.