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Leona O'Neill: Parents need to know the facts about vaccinating children

Vaccine hesitancy has already become a problem in the fight against the coronavirus, so when it comes to vaccinating children against Covid it's important that parents be aware of the real facts about risks and benefits, writes Leona O'Neill

The JCVI is advising that children at serious risk to Covid-19 are offered the Pfizer jab

WITH more and more countries forging ahead with their vaccine roll out, the focus is now on vaccinating children. Across Europe and the US, authorities have already begun vaccinating the 12 to 15 age group, with 16-and-ups having already been offered a

shot.

Vaccinating our younger people is considered an important step in getting children back to schools safely. A handful of vaccines have been successfully trialled on young people across the world, particularly the mRNA shots Moderna and Pfizer, and trials – some on children as young as six months old – are continuing as vaccines are rolled out.

As a parent, it's a tough decision to make and many are quite rightly anxious. We've been on a really warped rollercoaster these last 18 months and we all want some kind of normality. None of us want our children to get sick. None of us want to put our children in harm's way.

Severe illness and deaths are rare among healthy adolescents and children, but still some children do become very ill and the possibility of long Covid – a horrible and debilitating list of symptoms that can hang around for months even after a mild bout of coronavirus – is very concerning.

As we have seen in recent weeks and months, vaccine hesitancy is strong in some people, and it will be even more fierce, if that's possible, when it comes to people's children. A lot of the time what fuels this fear, hesitancy and push-back is lack of proper information. Or even worse, a completely confused message coming from the government that leads to an

erosion of trust. Strong, solid, reliable information is what parents need to make the best decision for their kids.

Some parents will be racing their children to the vaccination centre, some will take a lot of persuading and others will flat-out refuse to let the needle anywhere near their children.

Parents will have different reasons for getting themselves vaccinated as opposed to their children. I know I got vaccinated because I am responsible for my kids and I want to remain healthy so I can continue to look after them. I weighed the benefits versus the risks and made my own decision based on reliable information I sought out.

With regards to vaccinating their children, parents may question the benefits put against the risks. Given the great unknowns about the vaccines, the long term effects they might have and the significantly low impact the virus has on most of our younger population, parents will take a lot of strong persuasion to make the move.

As with all medications, there is a degree of risk. A potential link between the Pfizer jab and heart inflammation that has emerged since Israel and America started vaccinating their young people will have alarmed a lot of parents.

I want to be clear and point out that researchers have yet to establish a link between the condition and the vaccine, but the news will have had an impact of parent's mindsets. We do know that most of the young people affected have since recovered and the risk of these conditions is "extremely low".

As for us here, The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is advising that children at serious risk to Covid-19 – including children from 12 to 15-years-old with severe neurodisabilities, Down's Syndrome, Immunosuppression and severe learning difficulties – are offered the Pfizer jab. They are also recommending that children aged between 12 and 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person should be offered one. And also youngsters aged 16 and 17 who would be considered at risk are given it. At the moment, they are not advising the vaccination of children outside these groups.

However, it is something we, as parents, will need to think about not too far down the line as we look at ways out of this nightmare.

There is no doubt about it. Vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing the risk of people ending up in hospital and the morgue due to this blasted virus. If parents are to buy into the vaccination of their children they need to know the facts, the risks, the benefits in black and white so they can make an informed decision about their children's health.

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