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Govt rebukes GSD over ‘rash and misguided’ comments on Covid jabs for children

The Gibraltar Government on Wednesday encouraged the community to take up the offer of vaccinations for children aged between 12 and 15, accusing the GSD of “rash and misguided” comments on this sensitive issue.

No.6 Convent Place was reacting after the GSD raised doubts about the government’s decision to roll out Covid-19 jabs to younger children. It insisted vaccination was in the best interests of children.

“That best interest arises from both the direct health benefits to each child and from the indirect benefit of the lesser likelihood of having their education disrupted,” said Dr John Cortes, Dr Cortes, the Minister for Education and Public Health.

“I cannot see a good reason why any parent would wish to choose not to have their child vaccinated.”

The Gibraltar Government took the decision to vaccinate 12 to 15-year olds on the advice of the Medical Director at the Gibraltar Health Authority and the Director of Public Health.

That advice was issued after the four Chief Medical Officers in the UK gave the green light to vaccinate 12 to 15-year olds across the UK.

But the GSD noted that the UK’s decision – and Gibraltar’s subsequent one - had been taken despite the reservations of the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation [JCVI], which held back from making the recommendation to jab children.

The GSD also noted that the World Health Organisation had not yet recommended vaccinations for all children in the 12-15 age group and was awaiting the outcome of ongoing trials before updating its advice.

“For those reasons it might have been better to wait until the scientific recommendations were made that the vaccine should be administered to all young children,” Mr Azopardi said.

“That will only come when more is known about the risks of long-term effects on children.”

For the GSD, this was about highlighting information to ensure informed consent. For the government, the GSD was “politicising” the vaccination program and sowing doubt in a way that was risky for Gibraltar.

The government said not only had the decision been sanctioned by the Chief Medical Officers of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but children of this age group had already been jabbed in many different countries including the US and several EU states including Spain.

It said there were “sound scientific, health and educational reasons” to vaccinate children in this age group.

“[The GSD’s] rash and misguided approach on such a sensitive medical matter can lead to serious consequences for the success of Gibraltar’s fight against Covid-19 and the Opposition will have to live with the consequences of playing politics going forward,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.

Dr Cortes said the benefits of vaccination against Covid-19 were “even clearer” now than when Gibraltar started its mass vaccination campaign earlier this year.

“Now that the UK has cleared vaccination of 12 to 15 year olds and is providing us with the supply for this, I encourage all in that age group to take up the offer of vaccination and my message to their parents is clear: vaccination is in your child’s best interests,” he said.

“I am very grateful that the United Kingdom has, once again, immediately made available a stock of vaccines for our 12 to 15-year old cohort.”

“The Ministry for Health is ready to provide the inoculations.”

“No one should be in any doubt that taking the Covid-19 vaccine is the right thing to do.”

GSD REACTS

Even before the government’s criticism on Wednesday, the GSD’s position had drawn a stinging rebuke from Together Gibraltar, which described it “highly dangerous and cynical electioneering”.

TG accused the GSD of providing incomplete information and making inaccurate statements, describing its statement as “a shameful attempt to pander to anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists” in a way that compromised Gibraltar’s capacity to address the still ongoing Covid pandemic.

Unsurprisingly, the GSD hit back at TG – the government’s statement had not yet been issued at that point, though the same arguments apply – and defended its position on vaccinations, which it has supported for the adult population and vulnerable children.

It said all GSD MPs were vaccinated and that the scientific recommendations in respect of adults and vulnerable children “were overwhelming”.

But it noted, as it did on Tuesday, that the JCVI, the UK body tasked with making scientific recommendations in the UK, had not recommended vaccination for all children between 12 and 15.

The GSD had simply highlighted that advice, it said.

“The TG press release that brands the GSD as pandering to conspiracy theorists or compromising Gibraltar’s capacity to deal with the COVID pandemic is hysterical, authoritarian and frankly an unbelievable tirade,” the GSD said in a statement.

“It is worthy only of a party that has failed to understand the actual advice given or which wants to say anything on the subject irrespective of its recklessness.”

“Surely it is important and responsible to analyse all the highest recommendations that emanate from the JCVI, or is TG suggesting this should be ignored?”

The JCVI advises the UK Government on vaccination and immunisation and is made up of 16 of the country’s top professors and doctors, who are all experts in clinical medicine, immunisation, vaccines and public health.

The GSD insisted that its statement on jabs for children was “measured” and had referred to the JCVI advice “given that it is the relevant body to consider”.

The GSD, however, had made no mention of the four Chief Medical Officers having decided to approve vaccinations in that age group despite the JCVI’s advice.

Yesterday the party said it appreciated that both the UK and Gibraltar governments had decided to offer the vaccine in that age group “for wider reasons”.

“All we said in our communique yesterday was that the JCVI advice should be factored in when ultimately parents and children decide on whether they wish to take up that offer,” the GSD said.

“That is to promote an act of informed consent. It is important to place all the relevant information in front of people when taking this decision.”

“While we encourage adult and vulnerable children vaccination, we also understand that a small proportion of the population is not vaccinated either through choice or for medical reasons.”

“We respect the rights of those who decide not to be vaccinated and have spoken out previously as to the inconsistent treatment of unvaccinated individuals.”

“We will continue to do so as appropriate because individual freedoms need protecting.”

“This is not about pandering to any sector of the population. That is not the GSD style. We will say it like it is and how we see it.”

“Nor has this got anything to do with the issue of whether non-vulnerable 12 to 15-year-olds should be vaccinated.”
“In relation to that, listening to the JCVI is hardly a populist anti-vaxxer conspiracy.”

SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE

In explaining the decision to vaccinate children in the 12 to 15 age group, the Gibraltar Government stressed the backing of the Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and said such vaccinations had been happening elsewhere for months.

“The approach that the Opposition have adopted on this issue suggests that they are more concerned with sowing the seeds of doubt and pandering to the anti-vax lobby than in protecting the health of our children and those who come into contact with them,” No.6 Convent Place said.

The first mass campaign to vaccinate children against Covid-19 in the United States officially began in May after the US federal government recommended administering the PfizerBioNTech vaccine to 12-15 year olds.

This made some 17 million children eligible for the vaccine, 600,000 of whom received it in the first week of the campaign.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) also approved the vaccination of 12-15 year olds using the same vaccine in May this year.

This followed a study of 2,259 children in this age group which found that their immune response was comparable to those in the 16-25 cohort.

None of the children who received the vaccine developed Covid-19.

The following month, in April, the EMA also approved the Moderna vaccine for 12 to 17-year old children.

This was based on a study of 3,732 children, none of whom contracted Covid-19 after receiving the actual vaccine.

The result is that 68% of 12 to 18-year olds in France, 62% in Italy, 79.2% in Spain and 36.7% in Germany have already received one dose of the vaccine.

The United Kingdom had adopted a different approach before now giving the green light to jabs for the 12 to 15 age group.

“As Gibraltar obtains vaccine supply via the UK, we have had to wait for the UK’s decision on this and boosters before being able to offer the vaccine,” No.6 Convent Place said.

“It is nonetheless important for people to be clear that the vaccines will be offered to 12 to 15 year olds.”

“As has been the case in respect of every age group, they will not be compulsory but the Government urges all individuals in every age group and all parents of children aged 12 to 15 to get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is offered.”

The government said persons who were not vaccinated were five times more likely to catch the Delta variant of Covid-19 and 11 times more likely to die.

“This is the stark conclusion of three new studies conducted by the official Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States of America,” No.6 added.

“That alone should make the Opposition realise that there is no benefit to our general population in sowing even the slightest doubt about the benefits of vaccination.”

“The overall conclusion is that the vaccinations are holding up well against the variant and that they reduce the chances of severe illness, of hospitalisation and of death.”

One of the studies alone looked at 600,000 adult Covid-19 cases in 13 different areas of the USA, No.6 said.

It found that fully vaccinated people were some 11 times less likely to become infected in the pre-Delta period, compared with the unvaccinated and five times less likely in the post-Delta period.

In terms of hospitalisations, fully vaccinated people were 13 times less likely to end up in hospital before the delta variant took hold and ten times less likely post-Delta.

The study also concluded that fully vaccinated persons were 16.6 times less likely to die of Covid-19 prior to Delta, and 11 times less likely to die in the post-Delta world.

“The study also looked at other areas but the salient conclusions as to the effectiveness of vaccines and the protection that they provide is quite clear,” No.6 said.

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