The significantly lower risk posed by Coronavirus to children means we should now step up our efforts to aid vaccination programmes abroad, writes Leon Hady.

Nicola Sturgeon announced last week that soon, we will be vaccinating 16 year-olds in the UK. It hasn't been denied by the government, so we can assume it is somewhere between a likelihood and a certainty. Vaccinating a portion of the population who are not likely to get sick at all (or dangerously spread the virus, since almost all vulnerable adults are now vaccinated) would be an unforgivable waste of limited vaccine supplies.

Make no mistake: vaccines are in limited supply, just not in rich countries like the UK. Instead of wasting jabs on children who are at almost zero risk of serious illness, we should be sending surplus vaccines to the poorest and most vulnerable places in the world. History will not forgive countries who vaccinated their own children 'just in case' (in case of what?) while the elderly and healthcare workers in large swathes of the world continued to die from Coronavirus.

There may have been an argument in the past that we should vaccinate children to avoid them having to isolate and miss out on more school. As an ex-headteacher, I believe that we should do anything we can to ensure no more disruption to education. However, as the school 'pingdemic' draws to a close, this argument no longer stands.

Studies have shown that children who contract the virus are extremely unlikely to get sick. Similarly, the idea that they could be 'superspreaders' is similarly not supported by science. And even if they were superspreaders, almost everyone else is vaccinated. A recent study that came out of Israel should be instructive; it found that for every 20 per cent increase in the share of vaccinated adults, the share of children who tested positive for the virus fell by half.

Without straying into anti-vax territory, we must remember that younger people have been more likely to suffer from vaccine side effects like blood clotting complications that have been associated with the Oxford/Astra Zeneca jab. The risk could be higher in children. Why take that risk?

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Globally there is a huge vaccine shortage. Fewer than 1 in 7 people are fully vaccinated. Many countries have literally no vaccines, and many others have almost none. India, known as the pharmacy of the world, is in the throes of a deadly second wave, despite being a global pharmaceutical superpower. What chance does sub-Saharan Africa have?

There is a simple moral imperative to get vaccines to those who need them the most. We followed that domestically, prioritising healthcare workers, the elderly and the vulnerable. Why not do the same globally? We should feel fortunate that children are naturally protected by their age, and act accordingly. We must also acknowledge that the vaccine has done one of its secondary jobs – it has kept more serious virus effects at bay, to the point where the NHS is in a better place than if so many adults had not vaccinated.

As well as morals, there is also a pragmatic element here. As we see daily on the Kent coast, borders are porous. The virus doesn't care about them, so neither should we when it comes to our vaccines. Every time the virus is transmitted, it is given a chance to mutate. This is precisely why we have seen more infectious variants (first Delta and now 'Delta plus') emerging in India, one of the most populous and densely populated countries in the world.

With Coronavirus, no-one is safe until everyone is safe. Fortunately, children are already safe.

A survey conducted by Save the Children shows that 76 per cent of Brits agree that "people in the UK are still at risk of COVID-19 if the virus is thriving elsewhere in the world". Prioritising overseas needs would be a popular and smart move, particularly after Britain cut its international aid budget.

As an educator, I know that anti-vax sentiment is more common when it comes to parents making decisions about their children. I have seen parents worry about every last detail of their child's health and wellbeing, in a way that they never would about their own health. This is a natural and inevitable part of being a parent. It will be schools and teachers who will be in the firing line for questions, including hostile ones, about vaccinating children. Teachers already have enough to worry about, without the government outsourcing health policy to them.

Those teachers will also have to answer very awkward questions from children as to why they have received the vaccine, but vulnerable people abroad have not. That is exactly the opposite of the kind of values-based education we should be offering our children.

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