Sheffield health chief offers advice on vaccines for children and booster jabs

Sheffield’s public health chief has given an update on Covid in the city and given his views on vaccinations for children aged 12-15.

Tuesday, 12th October 2021, 3:52 pm

Vaccinations for school-age children and booster jabs for over-50s have been prominent issues in the news in recent weeks, and questions have been raised about whether they are safe and why older people need a third jab after already receiving two doses of the vaccine.

Sheffield’s director for public health Greg Fell has spoken to address those uncertainties, as well as offering an insight into how Sheffield has a Covid infection rate 10 times higher than this time last year, but the vaccination programme has ensured we do not need to be locked down again.

The approach to vaccinations for children in Sheffield is to offer the optional vaccine on a school-by-school basis, and to administer vaccines only to those whose parents have given their consent.

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Greg Fell, Sheffield's director for public health.

Mr Fell explained: “The children’s hospital are the organisation responsible for the vaccinations for under-18s and they are doing their programme school by school. They go into the schools and organise the logistics and getting parental consent.

“The idea is to have offered all 12-15s the vaccine by half term, which is ambitious but I think they are on track. They are doing about a school a day at the moment.

“It is too early to say what the uptake has been for children aged between 12 and 15, but the uptake for the 16-17s was about 50 per cent of those who have been offered it, which is about the average. I think it will be similar in the 12-15s.”

Mr Fell sought to allay any concerned parent’s fears about the safety of vaccinating children. He said: “The vaccine is safe and approved for use in kids. The benefits hugely outweigh the risks. In my view the risks are being greatly over-exaggerated by some people.

“Some people are worried about myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart. But the risk of getting that from contracting Covid is much higher than it is from getting it from the vaccine. And both are really small risks in the first place.

“All vaccines come with some risks and it would be a lie to say that they did not. But there are far more risks from having Covid itself. The vaccines reduces the number of risks.

“I think it is the right thing to do to offer the vaccine to children. People need to consider the risks and the benefits in proportion.

“Yes, younger people tend to get a milder infection. But the vaccine will help reduce the risk of being infected in the first place and passing it on to people who are more seriously affected.

“There have been plenty of kids who have been ill enough to have to stay at home from school, and part of the idea is to keep children in school, too.

“But people are entitled to their views, and parents will have their views about their children. I would just encourage people to carefully look at where they get their information from.

“There are a lot of theories on the internet and most of them are completely wrong.”

Meanwhile, Mr Fell said he was pleased with the number of older people getting their booster jabs, but his main concern was still the number of people in the over-50 age bracket who opted not to be vaccinated.

At the moment, the infection rate in Sheffield is ‘hovering around’ 315 new cases per 100,000 of the population every week, Mr Fell said.

He added: “It is worth noting that is 10 times higher than this time last year. One year ago we would have been in full lockdown with this infection rate.

“The vaccine programme is the thing that made all the difference. The rate is high and some people are ill or in hospital but it is nothing like the same as it was in the past. It is in a completely different league thanks to the vaccine.

“As we go into autumn I expect we will see an uptick in infection rates in most age groups. I am most worried about the over-60s age group but not as much as I was last year.

“We have only just started the over-50s boosters but the soft intelligence I have from people I have spoken to who are giving out the vaccines is that uptake is pretty good. I expect it to be similar to how it was for jabs one and two.

“The vaccines do work and the booster jabs do work. There is no doubt about that. We have seen them work in other countries and I suspect we will see the same here.

“It is hard to quantify at the moment but immunity wanes. We started the vaccination programme with the over-80s so it makes sense to start the booster programme with those people too, and move down. They have had the longest since their latest jab so have had more chance for immunity to wane.

“On the vaccine front the critical concern is about the around 10 per cent of over-50s who have chosen not to have the vaccine. That is the group we are worried most about.

“They have made that decision, and I respect that. But it worries me because there is still Covid about and it does find people. Poeple need to take an informed decision about whether to have it or not."