Advice follows death of healthy 15-year-old Jorja Halliday from Covid as infections rise in English schools
Senior doctors have urged secondary school children to consider getting vaccinated against Covid
after the death of a healthy 15-year-old girl highlighted that young people with no underlying conditions are potentially still at risk.
The rollout of Covid vaccines
for healthy 12 to 15-year-olds in England started on 20 September, but the process is more complicated than for some age groups because the shots are given through schools and parental consent is needed beforehand.
Dr Helen Salisbury, a GP in Oxford and a member of the Independent Sage committee, said while it made sense to deliver Covid
vaccinations through schools, the programme was starting late compared with other countries and that many schools could struggle given recent cuts to school nursing and medical services.
She said the combination of “half-hearted endorsement” of the vaccine
in the age group and “stretched services” risked further delaying vaccinations in teenagers. Sending children back to school without masks, extra ventilation, bubbles and isolation policies was “a total recipe for ensuring everybody gets exposed”, she added.
“I don’t understand why we are not getting on with it. It seems urgent. Urgent to protect these children, and to protect their families, and to protect their education,” she said. “We should have started this in the summer.”
Jorja Halliday, a 15-year-old from Portsmouth, died from Covid
last week on the day she was due to have her Covid
jab. She developed myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, days after contracting the virus. While some cases of heart inflammation have been recorded as an extremely rare side-effect of the vaccine
, none have led to deaths in young people. The risk of myocarditis appears to be substantially higher from Covid
than the vaccine
The UK’s chief medical officers recommended a single shot of Pfizer vaccine
for healthy 12 to 15-year-olds after considering the impact on schooling and mental health, after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation concluded that the medical benefit to children was marginal. The NHS aims to have most children in the group vaccinated before October half-term.
Prof John Simpson, consultant paediatric cardiologist at the Evelina London Children’s hospital and president of the British Congenital Cardiac Association, said Jorja Halliday’s death was “a sad reminder” that while Covid
is rarely serious in young people, it can still be fatal.
The first official figures on Covid vaccine
uptake among healthy 12 to 15-year-olds in England are expected this week, the Guardian understands. Dr Nikki Kanani, deputy lead for the NHS vaccination programme, said hundreds of schools in England are already vaccinating pupils.
Since the start of the autumn term, infection rates have soared in secondary schools in England, with about one in 20 children in years seven to 11 now expected to test positive for Covid
, according to the Office for National Statistics.
“Any death of a child is one too many,” said Russell Viner, professor in adolescent health at UCL, who has advised Sage. “The chances of teenagers without other medical conditions getting very sick or dying from Covid
is extremely small. Side-effects from the vaccine
are also very rare in this age group. However rare, events both from Covid
and from vaccination can and will happen in large populations.
“I believe that vaccinating teenagers is on balance in their best interests.”
Dr Camilla Kingdon, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “We encourage children and families to seriously consider the offer of Covid
-19 vaccination and, if they have questions, to consult with healthcare professionals who are experienced in providing information and supporting conversations.”