An open letter from UK doctors to Dr June Raine, Chief Executive, MHRA – COVID-19 child vaccination: safety and ethical concerns

We wish to notify you of our grave concerns regarding all proposals to administer COVID-19 vaccines to children. Recently leaked Government documents suggested that a COVID-19 vaccine rollout in children over 12 years old is already planned for September 2021, and the possibility of children as young as 5 years old being vaccinated in the summer in a worst-case scenario.1

We have been deeply disturbed to hear several Government and SAGE representatives calling in the media for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to be “turning to children as fast as we can”.2 Teaching materials circulated to London schools contain emotionally loaded questions and inaccuracies3. In addition, there has been disturbing language used by teaching union leaders, implying that coercion of children to accept the COVID-19 vaccines through peer pressure in schools was to be encouraged, despite the fact that coercion to accept a medical treatment is against UK and International Laws and Declarations.4 Rhetoric such as this is irresponsible and unethical, and encourages the public to demand the vaccination of minors with a product still at the research stage and about which no medium- or long-term effects are known, against a disease which presents no material risk to them. A summary of our reasons is given below and a more detailed fully referenced explanation is available.5

We must ensure that there is no repeat of any past tragedies which have occurred especially when vaccines are rushed to market. For example, the swine flu vaccine, Pandemrix, rolled out following the pandemic of 2010, resulted in over one thousand cases of narcolepsy, a devastating brain injury, in children and teenagers, before being withdrawn.6 Dengvaxia, a new vaccine against Dengue, was also rolled out to children ahead of the full trial outcomes, and 19 children died of possible antibody dependent enhancement (ADE) before the vaccine was withdrawn.7 We must not risk a repeat of this with the COVID-19 vaccines, which would not only impact on the children and families affected, but would also have a hugely damaging effect on vaccination uptake in general.

Healthy children are at almost no risk from COVID-19, with risk of death as low as 1 in 2.5 million9. No previously healthy child under the age of 15 died during the pandemic in the UK and admissions to hospital or intensive care are exceedingly rare10 with most children having no or very mild symptoms. Although Long-Covid has been cited as a reason for vaccinating children, there is little hard data. It appears less common and much shorter-lived than in adults and none of the vaccine trials have studied this outcome11 12. The inflammatory condition, PIMS, was listed as a potential adverse effect in the Oxford AstraZeneca children’s trial13. Naturally acquired immunity will give broader and better lasting immunity than vaccination14. Indeed, many children will already be immune15. Individual children at very high risk can already receive vaccination on compassionate grounds16.

COVID-19 child vaccination: safety and ethical concerns – HART