The UK is “past the point” where vaccinating young, healthy children against Covid-19 will do any good, a leading expert has said.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine from the University of East Anglia, said most children have already had coronavirus, with the vast majority not falling seriously ill.
Last September, England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty estimated that half of children had had Covid – a figure that will now be far higher.
Other countries, including in Europe and the US, have been vaccinating children aged five to 11 with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Experts from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation are expected to give their decision on vaccinating healthy, young children in the UK shortly.
Prof Hunter told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme infection rates in children are “falling really quickly at the moment”, adding: “So I think in many ways we’re past the point where vaccines are actually going to make much difference.”
He said jabs were given to older children to hopefully protect them from interruptions to their schooling, but he added: “We haven’t seen that vaccines have actually done a huge amount to stop these interruptions, so I think the benefits are marginal, and it’s probably too late because most kids have already had Omicron.”
Prof Hunter said a lot of children “have probably had multiple Covids by now” and there had been a high incidence of infection, making decisions around the benefits and risks of vaccines difficult to work out.
However, Dr Elizabeth Mann from the University of Manchester said that although the risk of severe disease in children was low, new strains were coming one after one another and Covid is “not something that’s going to go away”.
She said the risks from vaccination were low and children with coronavirus were at risk of long Covid even if their disease was mild.
“I think the implications of that sway it for me in terms of vaccinating children,” she added.
Children aged 12 and over in the UK are currently offered a vaccine but only vulnerable under-12s are eligible for one.