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GSD's doubt on jabs for children draws stinging reaction from TG

Photo by Nick Potts/PA

The GSD urged caution on Tuesday following the Gibraltar Government’s announcement that the Covid-19 vaccine would be offered to children aged between 12 and 15.

The GSD said the decision on whether to vaccinate children in these age groups was ultimately a choice for parents and children but noted that key UK and international scientific advisors were not yet recommending the jab for those age groups.

Reacting to the statement, Together Gibraltar said it was shocked by the GSD’s position, which it said was “a shameful attempt” to appeal to people opposed to the vaccines.

“This amounts to highly dangerous and cynical electioneering, as being able to enact public health policy swiftly and effectively is the most important tool we have to protect our citizens until we can eliminate the threat of the virus,” TG said in a statement.

The Gibraltar Government earlier this week announced its rollout for children on the advice of the Medical Director at the Gibraltar Health Authority and the Director of Public Health.

It came as the Chief Medical Officers in the UK gave the green light to vaccinate 12 to 15-year olds across the UK.

But the GSD, while not mentioning the decision of the four Chief Medical Officers, noted that the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation [JCVI] this month decided against making the recommendation.

The four Chief Medical Officers issued their advice despite the JCVI’s position.

The GSD cited the JCVI’s advice of September 3, which said: “Overall, the committee is of the opinion that the benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms…but acknowledges that there is considerable uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the potential harms.”

“The margin of benefit, based primarily on a health perspective, is considered too small to support advice on a universal programme of vaccination of otherwise healthy 12 to 15-year-old children at this time.”

“As longer-term data on potential adverse reactions accrue, greater certainty may allow for a reconsideration of the benefits and harms. Such data may not be available for several months.”

The Opposition also referred to the World Health Organisation, which had similarly so far not recommended that all 12 to 15-year olds should be vaccinated.

The WHO has recommended only that “higher risk” children should be vaccinated and said that “vaccine trials for children are ongoing and WHO will update its recommendations when the evidence or epidemiological situation justifies a change in policy.”

The GSD said the scientific recommendations were based on the fact that there has been insufficient research on the effects of the vaccine on children and that generally there would be a marginal health benefit in having it.

Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition, acknowledged that there were arguments in favour of rolling out the vaccine to this age group.

But he said it was also important to note the scientific recommendations from leading professionals in the field in the UK and the WHO.

He added too that Covid-19 was at “manageable levels” in Gibraltar and that was no indication that vaccination of children was necessary to ensure “educational stability” or further minimise the spread of the virus.

He said the roll-out of boosters to the vulnerable and general adult population would probably do more to minimise the effect of Covid-19 into the winter.

“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.”

“Ultimately this is a decision for parents and children in the context of all the facts.”

“The GSD have been supportive of the general roll out of the vaccine to vulnerable people and the adult population generally.”

“That was because there was a clear need and the scientific recommendations were there.”

“For 12–15-yearolds it is important to note that this is not the case and that the decision is based on other factors.”

“Parents will want to balance all of this when deciding what to do in relation to their particular child.”

“The scientific evidence is in favour of vulnerable 12–15-year-olds taking it.”

Together Gibraltar remained unconvinced and said the GSD’s position omitted key facts and provided inaccurate information.

“This statement is little more than a shameful attempt to pander to anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists, and compromises Gibraltar’s capacity to address the still ongoing Covid pandemic - only for a handful of votes,” TG said.

“The press release provides incomplete information and inaccurate statements.”

“It cites advice from the JCVI, while omitting the fact that the four UK Chief Medical Officers unanimously recommended vaccination of this age group after taking into consideration this advice.”

“The GSD also refers to ‘long term effects’ of the vaccine on children, even though it has long been the consensus that this is simply a biological implausibility.”

“To add insult to injury, it makes a completely unnecessary point, as the Gibraltar Government - or any other government for that matter - has never suggested forcing vaccines on children without parental consent.”

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