LIZ COLE: Letting children overrule parents on Covid jabs is wrong

Letting children overrule parents on Covid jabs is a strike at the very heart of family life, writes pro-vaccine mother LIZ COLE

After 18 long months, during which parents have seen their authority over their children constantly undermined – by politicians and the medical establishment – over Covid restrictions at school and in the home, it beggars belief we have gone one step further.

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi has confirmed that 12 to 15-year-olds offered the Covid jab could override their parents’ wishes ‘if they’re deemed competent to make that decision, with all the information available’.

His words horrified me, striking as they do at the heart of family life – an area in which the state should intervene only with tremendous caution.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith is right to warn of bitter disputes that might follow within families.

To me, the question is clear; who is better placed to determine the best medical treatment for a child – parents or a Government minister?

After 18 long months, during which parents have seen their authority over their children constantly undermined – by politicians and the medical establishment – over Covid restrictions at school and in the home, it beggars belief we have gone one step further, writes LIZ COLE 

I have two children aged 12 and 13. They are bright, thoughtful and responsible.

But I’d no sooner want them to make their own decisions about the potential risks of vaccination than I’d want them to decide whether to buy alcohol or take driving lessons.

They’re simply not old enough yet. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had both my Covid vaccines. 

And my children have had all their major vaccinations: including polio, measles, tetanus and against other very serious illnesses that can ruin – and, in some cases, even end – young lives.

However, the question of whether or not to give Covid jabs to under-16s is, I believe, far more complex: after all, experts themselves disagree.

Earlier this month, schools and the NHS were instructed to draw up detailed plans to vaccinate secondary schoolchildren. 

But then the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations (JCVI) refused to back immunising children on medical grounds alone. 

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi has confirmed that 12 to 15-year-olds offered the Covid jab could override their parents’ wishes ‘if they’re deemed competent to make that decision, with all the information available’. Above: Public Health England yesterday published of a guide to Covid-19 vaccination for children and young people 

Now, after a review of the evidence – this time taking into account the impact of Covid on broader issues affecting child health and wellbeing such as schooling and social activities, all four of the UK’s chief medical officers have agreed that children aged 12 to 15 should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.

The decision has been presented as a means of reducing the chances of another protracted lockdown this autumn and winter – including the risk of school closures.

Vaccination, we are told, could prevent around 30,000 infections in this age group of around three million in England over the next six months and save 110,000 school days otherwise missed.

But for individual children, the issue can be less clear-cut.

It is now firmly established that healthy children are highly unlikely to become seriously ill with Covid. 

We also know that the majority of children who have had Covid jabs have not suffered any major side-effects.

But there is evidence of a link between the vaccines and a condition known as myocarditis or inflammation of the heart muscle in very few cases. 

The risk is believed to be higher among boys. No wonder the experts have been at odds over the best course of action.

And the point is that, if even the best informed scientists and doctors can’t agree, how on earth can a 12-year-old possibly be expected to resolve the contradictions and uncertainties of whether or not to have the Covid vaccine?

I believe it is immoral to ask youngsters to make such a decision. 

To justify their proposals, ministers are pointing to an obscure piece of 1980s legislation introduced originally to allow teenagers to obtain contraception without their parents’ consent.

To me, the question is clear; who is better placed to determine the best medical treatment for a child – parents or a Government minister? 

Under what is called ‘Gillick competency’, under-16s can make their own decisions about medical treatment if they can demonstrate that they have the capacity to consent. 

But I cannot see that Gillick competency has any relevance here. Contraception and vaccination against an infectious disease are entirely different: to elide one with the other smacks of naked political opportunism.

Added to which, 12-year-olds and young teenagers are highly suggestible. They are liable to listen to all sorts of role models – some good, some less so – when in the vast majority of cases the people with their true best interests at heart are likely to be their parents.

Let me be clear. I strongly support the state’s right to intervene in children’s medical treatment in exceptional circumstances – such as when, for example, a parent tries to prevent a life-saving blood transfusion for their child on religious grounds.

But vaccinating children against Covid is different; a finely balanced issue with thorny arguments on both sides. 

In a guidance document, the NHS has itself pointed out that it would rarely be appropriate or safe for a child to consent to treatment without parental involvement. 

The danger of undermining this must not be underestimated.

Young teenagers and 12-year-olds are vulnerable people. Theirs is an age when reliable guidance and strong boundaries are most needed.

And parents are best-placed to provide these. 

We set their bedtimes, tell them when they can go out and for how long, watch their diet and lay down rules about how many hours each week they can spend on their phones and other devices. 

Yes, as they move into their teens, they crave ever more independence. 

But they are also under constant peer pressure both online and in the playground, in danger of being persuaded by other teens or older predators to do potentially catastrophic things – such as taking drugs, trying alcohol or having sex.

Now the Government appears to be offering them the option to defy their parents on something as critical as medical treatment – and to make up their own minds on the basis of whatever evidence or opinions they manage to glean from their peers and, God forbid, the internet.

 

Why, some might think, should they ever listen to their parents on any subject ever again? 

To return to my opening point, Britain’s youngsters have suffered a year and a half of disruption and uncertainty: their education, their physical and mental development and their social lives have all been hammered by lockdowns, school closures and the rest of the measures levelled against the pandemic.

Parents have been asked to collude in policies that have been, in too many cases, harmful to their own children.

We have had to keep them away from school for months at a time and had to ask them to spend countless hours in front of screens for ‘remote learning’. 

Our children have borne the brunt of Covid restrictions. Now the Government wants to tell them to make up their own minds about complex medical choices – and even override their parents’ wishes.

The suggestion is simply unconscionable – and it must not stand.

Liz Cole is a co-founder of the children’s rights campaign group, UsForThem.

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