Virtually all children will get Covid if they don't get vaccinated, warns Chris Whitty

Prof Chris Whitty told MPs that vaccines could reduce the risk by at least 50 per cent – PA Wire

About half of children have already had Covid and “virtually all” will get it without the rollout of vaccines, the Chief Medical Officer for England has said.

Professor Chris Whitty told MPs that young people aged between 12 and 15 are currently driving Covid transmission, and now have the highest rates of infection among all age groups.

He said that the high levels of prior infection with Covid was not a reason to hold off vaccinations, saying immunity would wane, and some be reinfected.

He told the Commons education select committee: “Virtually any child, unvaccinated, is likely to get an infection at some point between 12 and 15.

“The great majority of children who have not had Covid are going to get it at some point over the next period. It won’t be necessarily the next two or three months, but they will get it sooner or later because this is incredibly infectious. And because immunity wanes, we’re not going to see a situation where it just sort of stops at a certain point.”

Prof Whitty said “quite a lot of damage” could lie ahead in terms of disruption in schools, saying the rollout of jabs in schools was key to reducing its impact.

Asked what proportion of children had already had Covid-19, he replied: “It varies by age and it does also vary by setting, but I think if we go for roughly half, I think that is a reasonable stab at this.

“That’s half over the period of the entire epidemic to date, and we’ve got quite a way to run. We’re running into winter, so there’s still quite a lot of damage that could be done in terms of disruption.”

‘Substantial transmission’ among secondary school pupils

Prof Whitty said that vaccines could reduce the risk by at least 50 per cent, but also warned of “substantial transmission” happening among secondary school children at the moment.

He told MPs: “The age group we are talking about is the one in which the highest rate of transmission is currently occurring, as far as we can tell.”

The Chief Medical Officer and his counterparts in the Home Nations recommended earlier this month that a Covid vaccine should be offered to all children aged 12 to 15.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation had earlier concluded that the margin of benefit was too small to support universal vaccination of healthy 12- to 15-year-olds, saying ministers should seek advice from the chief medical officers on the wider societal and educational impacts.

Asked by MPs if his decision was “entirely medical” and had not been “political” or “influenced by politicians”, Prof Whitty said it was “categorically” a medical decision.

He said: “There is no point asking for professional advice… if you then take into account extraneous things. Ministers ask us for a professional view, and we give them a professional view.

“They then have an important political step, which is their decision. We hand our professional [advice] over. So our professional advice is completely medical.”

Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said that because the delta variant is at least 60 per cent more infectious than the alpha variant, it was “really quite inevitable” that those who had not been vaccinated would become infected.

This could be at a point in their educational careers, such as during GCSEs and A-Levels, when it is “extremely inconvenient” to be laid low “with a cough, fever, and respiratory symptoms,” he said.

Prof Whitty said the rollout of jabs, with most children due to be offered a first vaccine by the half term, could form an “insurance policy” against further waves of Covid.

He told MPs: “Nobody knows what kind of surges we’re going to have over time and how we will have to respond to them. But I think what this does do is it provides an insurance policy to reduce, not eliminate, but to significantly reduce the impact any significant surge would have.”

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