Children may get 'better' immunity from catching Covid, expert says

Children may get 'better' immunity from catching Covid, expert says

September 14, 2021

Children may get ‘better’ immunity from catching Covid naturally instead of getting single vaccine, scientists say amid row over UK’s decision to jab youngsters

  • Professor David Livermore said it was ‘pretty pointless’ to inoculate children aged 12 to 15 against Covid
  • He told MailOnline they would get better immunity from natural infection instead of one dose of the vaccine
  • Covid vaccines work by teaching the immune system to recognise the virus and fight it off 

Children may get ‘better’ immunity from catching Covid naturally instead of getting one dose of a vaccine, a scientist said today amid a row over the UK’s decision to jab 12-year-olds.

Professor David Livermore, a microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, claimed it was ‘pretty pointless’ to inoculate youngsters, who face such a vanishingly small risk of falling seriously ill with Covid.

He told MailOnline they would probably develop more protection from catching the virus, in a similar way as to how they build up immunity against other seasonal illnesses.

Covid vaccines work by teaching the immune system to recognise the virus and give it the power to fight it off in the future.

But some studies have suggested vaccine-triggered immunity starts to wane within six months, while some data has suggested people who have recovered from the virus may be protected for at least a year.

One Israeli study claimed people who get the vaccine are 13 times more likely to catch Covid than those who have recovered from a previous infection. 

Professor Chris Whitty and the other chief medical officers in the UK yesterday said 12 to 15-year-olds should be offered a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine. 

But fury erupted last night as experts and parents warned the decision could lead to unvaccinated children being bullied and could even ‘tear families apart’.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said families must be support and ‘no one should be stigmatised’ for choosing whether they do or do not want to get the vaccine. 

It comes after the JCVI recommended today that over-50s should get a third dose of the Covid vaccine six months after their second shot.

Scientists are divided over whether 12 to 15-year-olds should get the Covid vaccine, with some SAGE members previously backing the move arguing it would help to head off a surge in infections later this winter. 

But others have argued it would be ethically dubious to inoculate the age group when millions of people in poorer countries are still waiting to be vaccinated. 

Professor David Livermore said it was ‘pretty pointless’ to vaccinate children. Professor Chris Whitty and the other chief medical officers have recommended Covid vaccines for 12 to 15-year-olds

This graph shows the number of first doses dished out by age group. The NHS publishes age groups as periods of five years, and groups all those under 18 together. It shows more than 620,000 have already been inoculated among under-18s

Israel has seen its Covid hospitalisations tail off after it started to administer booster shots (shown in the above graph of weekly hospitalisations with the virus per million people)

Over-5s could be next in line for a Covid vaccine, an Independent SAGE member has said.

Professor Devi Sridhar, who is a global public health expert at Edinburgh University, told Good Morning Britain jabs for this age group were the ‘next issue on the horizon’.

She said: ‘The exciting thing on the horizon to mention, even for parents of younger kids,

‘It looks like Pfizer is going for approval of the vaccine for five to 11-year-olds in the United States in October, so this is going to be the next issue on the horizon — once we deal with the 12-17 year olds whether we do that for the under-12s.’

Yesterday Professor Chris Whitty and the chief medical officers from the devolved nations recommended vaccines for 12 to 15-year-olds, saying they would slash time off school due to the virus.

But they said there were ‘no plans’ to expand the roll out to children in younger age groups.

Professor Whitty told a Downing Street press conference: ‘We certainly have no plans at the moment to re-examine this, there are some nations that are doing this.

‘It hasn’t even got to the point where this has been considered by MHRA, so we’re a long way even thinking about this, so let’s not rush that one at all.’

Discussing the decision to sign off on jabs for all over-12s, Professor Livermore told MailOnline: ‘I think what’s been done is really pretty pointless. It is a bad use of vaccine.

‘Children are at very, very low risk of severe infection, and we’d really be better off just building better immunity to this virus [through infection] as we do to a score of other circulating viruses.’

He added: ‘Vaccinating children has been justified not to protect children from severe infection, but so schools can be kept open. This is based on a false premise. Schools here should not have been closed at all.’

Professor Livermore, who is also a member of the anti-lockdown Health Advisory and Recovery Team (HART) pointed to Sweden, which kept its schools open during the first wave despite no vaccine being available at the time.

And over last winter it managed to keep schools open except upper secondaries for 16 to 19-year-olds, which were closed from December to April.

Several studies from Israel — which is famed for having one of the world’s leading inoculation drives — have already suggested vaccine triggered immunity wanes within six months of the second dose being administered.

Official data from the country showed Covid hospitalisations started to tick up in August, about six months after their inoculation programme had finished jabbing older adults in the country. 

But admissions began to fall again just two weeks after the boosters were first rolled out — which is roughly how long it takes for a vaccine to spark immunity.

The fall in immunity is behind the decision to roll out booster vaccines in Britain, which was unveiled today by the Government’s vaccine advisers. 

Meanwhile, a study in the US published in April found the vast majority of people who were infected with the virus did not catch it up to a year later.

Of 9,000 patients who recovered from the virus after being hospitalised, only 63 (0.7 per cent) tested positive for it in the up to a year since. 

Professor Livermore previously told MailOnline: ‘It is clear the vaccine-mediated protection wanes significantly within four to six months. Even government advertising acknowledges this.

‘On the other hand, reinfection remains rare among those infected in the first wave, over a year ago.’

Public Health England data suggests the jabs may be less effective against the Delta variant but do still drastically cut the risk of hospitalisations and deaths.

Their latest figures showed the jabs were 79 per cent effective at stopping an infection with the mutant strain after a second dose, but 96 per cent effective against hospitalisaton.

And an Israeli study published at the end of August found people who got two doses of the Covid vaccine were 13 times more likely to catch Covid compared to people who were previously infected. 

The authors said in their conclusion: ‘This study demonstrated that natural immunity confers longer lasting and stronger protection against infection, symptomatic disease and hopsitalisation caused by the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 compared to the [Pfizer] two-dose vaccine-induced immunity.

‘Individuals who were both previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and given a single dose of the vaccine gained additional protection against the Delta variant.’

Britain does not routinely survey Covid antibody levels in under-16s.

But Professor Paul Hunter from the University of East Anglia has said it is possible that up to half of the age group may already have some form of protection against the virus from previous exposure.

Scientists are divided over whether to vaccinate children with scientists pushing back against the move arguing it may be better for children to develop immunity from infection instead of relying on jabs.

But several high profile experts have backed the move to jab children warning the virus could ‘rip through’ the country again if children are not inoculated.

Professor Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, said the risks of side effects outweighed the dangers posed by Covid itself for most children.

And he added ‘as much as half’ of all teens would already have had the virus, referencing estimates from the Office for National Statistics, and therefore have natural immunity already and not need a jab.

Professor Hunter also said that vaccinating children would be purely for the benefit of adults, which could be seen as ethically ‘dubious’.

And Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, told MailOnline vaccinating children would ‘use up’ Britain’s supply of jabs designated for boosters for the clinically vulnerable this winter.

Other experts have, however, called for children to be jabbed. Professor Devi Sridhar, a global public health expert at Edinburgh University, said 12 to 15-year-olds should be offered the vaccine ‘urgently’ with the Delta variant set to ‘fly through schools’.

The JCVI did not recommend Covid vaccines for children at the start of September because it found they only offered a marginal benefit on health grounds.

But they passed the decision to the country’s chief medical officers, saying it was outside their committees role to consider vaccination in terms of wider societal benefits.

Professor Whitty has said children should be offered Covid jabs amid concern they could miss more school time due to the virus and to protect the mental health of those that are concerned. 

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