Another nudge to vaccinate children and for whose benefit?

The runaway train that refuses to be knocked off course

When the JCVI considered covid vaccines for children in July 2021, they stated, “JCVI is of the view that the health benefits of universal vaccination in children and young people below the age of 18 years do not outweigh the potential risks”.  Even in September 2021, they still said, “A precautionary approach was agreed given the very low risk of serious disease in those aged 12 to 15 years without an underlying health condition that puts them at increased risk.”  As HART bulletin readers will know, the Chief Medical Officers eventually recommended the vaccine for 12-15s, in the vain hope of reducing school closures, which of course could have been achieved by simply stopping routine testing of asymptomatic school children and the sending home of healthy contacts.

Roll on to February 2022, when a ‘non-urgent offer’ was made of Pfizer vaccine for 5-11-year-olds, JCVI stated, “This advice on the offer of vaccination to 5 to 11-year olds who are not in a clinical risk group is considered by JCVI as a one-off pandemic response programme. As the COVID-19 pandemic moves further towards endemicity in the UK, JCVI will review whether, in the longer term, an offer of vaccination to this, and other paediatric age groups, continues to be advised.”

If any of our readers has seen this review, we would be pleased to know, as it might help us clarify the surprising appearance of Covid-19 on the NHS routine immunisation programme.  Placing an unlicenced preparation onto the routine schedule is unprecedented.  It raises serious questions of the legality, given the conditional authorisation was predicated on there being an emergency.  It is also of course a subtle way of making parents think this vaccine is just run-of-the-mill. The current low uptake (53% of 12-15s and a mere 8.5% of 5-11s) suggests that at present, parents are well aware that covid-19 vaccines are not the same as other vaccines, either in terms of the risk of the disease for children or in terms of drug safety.  They will also be well aware that lots of their triple vaccinated adult friends and family, have been catching covid regardless.

Not content with slipping this drug into the schedule under cover of the 4-day Jubilee holiday, the Local Government Association has been pushing behavioural psychology techniques to increase vaccine uptake in the young. Their opening gambit is, “Younger generations are more likely to be vaccine hesitant partly because they perceive themselves to be at lower risk of developing a severe form of COVID-19”. Surely, this is not a ‘perception’, it is a ‘fact’, which should surely have been viewed as a blessing, rather than an annoyance.

It gets worse: Highlight the pro-social benefits of vaccination

Behavioural Insight:  Emphasising the pro-social benefits of vaccination is particularly effective among young people. Prosocial benefits include achieving herd immunity and protecting others, especially those that are vulnerable and cannot get vaccinated. Combining both informational and emotional content can be effective.”  Another one for the fact checkers – the JCVI say, the benefits to the wider population are highly uncertain.”

And worse: “Highlight social norms about vaccination

Behavioural Insight: Highlighting that there are growing intentions to get vaccinated, that most people are getting vaccinated and that they approve doing so, can effectively encourage vaccine take up. Since young people tend to be more susceptible to peer influence, it is likely that social norms can be particularly effective when targeting this group.

Potential application: Emphasise Social norms in communications targeted towards young people. Make vaccination visible to other young people by setting up vaccination centres in university campuses or schools. Launch an ‘I will get vaccinated’-pledge on social media.” 

And faintly ridiculous: “Second vaccine jab compliance

Ensuring residents take their second vaccine dose could be a challenge with which councils can support PHE and the NHS. This could be especially the case if news on vaccine efficacy and new strains undermines the perceived value of the second jab.”  Again, the use of the word ‘perceived’ implies that the ‘news’ on vaccine efficacy and new strains is somehow irrelevant to informed consent. No wonder the powers that be don’t want people to see this graph from week 13 of 2022, dropped from the more recent weekly vaccine reports.

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