England’s chief medical officer (CMO) should resign over his decision to roll out Covid vaccinations to children “without good clinical reason”, a backbench Tory MP has claimed.
A row broke out on Monday after the government announced 12 to 15-year-olds will be offered one Pfizer jab from next week, following a decision made by the CMOs of each of the UK’s four nations, including England’s Professor Chris Whitty.
Responding to the move in a tweet on Monday night Marcus Fysh, the Conservative MP for Yeovil, claimed Prof Whitty “does not deserve the confidence of the country” as he called for him to step down.
Speaking in the House of Commons earlier, Mr Fysh said he had “grave concerns about this policy and the fact that the chief medical officers have made their decision on the basis of the educational impact rather than the health of the children at clinical level.”
In a previous ruling the JCVI, which looks at vaccinations from a purely clinical perspective, concluded that the virus presents a very low risk for children and therefore an inoculation programme would offer only minor benefits.
The CMOs, who had come under significant political and media pressure to approve the rollout, told a Downing Street press conference on Monday that there were other benefits, including reducing the disruption to the school term.
Professor Whitty told the news conference it had been a “difficult decision” but CMOs would not be recommending the jabs “unless we felt that benefit exceeded risk”.
Three million eligible teenagers will be offered a first dose as early as next week as part of in-school vaccination services and. A rollout has not been confirmed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The fall out continued on Tuesday morning amid concerns about the youngest children involved in the programme and parental consent.
Those under the age of 16 are able to get some medical procedures without consent if they are deemed competent to make that decision on their own.
This is checked by the so-called Gillick test, which assesses whether a child under the age of 16 has sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand what is being proposed.
If a child is not competent to give consent for themselves, consent should be sought from a person with parental responsibility.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said children will only be able to have a vaccination against their parents’ wishes following a meeting with a clinician.
But Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said he would not feel comfortable with a 12-year-old getting a jab if their parent had not consented.
Asked about a 12-year-old potentially taking up their offer of a jab if their parent had not consented, Prof Harnden told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I wouldn’t feel comfortable about that.
“I think we have to be really careful that we go by the law, and the law clearly states that the child and parent should try to come to an agreed conclusion.
“But if the child wants to go ahead or doesn’t want to go ahead and the parent feels absolutely the opposite, then the clinician involved in administering the vaccine needs to be absolutely sure that the child is competent to make that decision.”
He added: “There will be a grade of competency from the age of 16 downwards, so 14 to 15-year-olds may be deemed competent to make that decision on their own, (but) it’s less likely that a 12 or 13-year-old will be deemed competent.”
Mr Zahawi told Sky News: “On the very rare occasion where there is a difference of opinion between the parent and the 12 to 15-year-old, where the parent, for example, doesn’t want to give consent but the 12 to 15-year-old wants to have the vaccine, then the first step is the clinician will bring the parent and the child together to see whether they can reach consent.
“If that is not possible, then, if the child is deemed to be competent – and this has been around since the ’80s for all vaccination programmes in schools – if the child is deemed to be competent, Gillick competence as it is referred to, then the child can have the vaccine.
“But these are very rare occasions and it is very important to remember that the School Age Immunisation Service is incredibly well equipped to deal with this – clinicians are very well versed in delivering vaccinations to 12 to 15-year-olds in schools.”