Chris Whitty warns 'virtually any child' will get Covid-19 if not vaccinated

22 September 2021, 19:50

Prof Chris Whitty said all 12 to 15-year-olds were likely to get coronavirus in coming months.
Prof Chris Whitty said all 12 to 15-year-olds were likely to get coronavirus in coming months. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Professor Chris Whitty has warned that "virtually any child" aged between 12 and 15 will get coronavirus if they do not get vaccinated.

It comes as the Chief Medical Officer and Professor Jonathan Van-Tam were facing questions from MPs about the inclusion of children in the Government's Covid vaccination programme.

He issued the stark warning ahead of winter which is expected to cause "quite a lot of damage", if steps such as vaccination are not taken among 12 to 15-year-olds to limit the risk.

Addressing MPs, Prof Whitty said: "There is definitely substantial transmission happening in this age group. In fact, the age group we're talking about is the one in which the highest rate of transmission is currently occurring as far as we can tell."

Read more: 'There should be no stigma': Vaccines minister defends jabs for all children aged 12-15

When asked about modelling for school days lost due to short-term disruption as a result of the vaccine rollout, he explained: "You are not comparing a child being vaccinated against nothing happening.

"You are comparing a child being vaccinated against a near certainty that child will get Covid-19."

The professor added: "Our view is firmly that people who have an infection are likely to be off school for longer than people who have a vaccination on average.

"Therefore since virtually any child, unvaccinated, is likely to get an infection at some point between 12 and 15, that is the correct comparison, not against nothing."

Prof Whitty also confirmed that around half of children had already had the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

He said: "It varies by age and it does also vary by setting, but I think if we go for roughly half I think that is a reasonable stab at this.

"That's half over the period of the entire epidemic to date, and we've got quite a way to run.

"We're running into winter so there's still quite a lot of damage that could be done in terms of disruption."

Read more: More than one million people in England to get Covid booster jab invite from Monday

Professor Van-Tam also said that because the Delta variant is so infectious "we are not looking at a theoretical risk" of children aged 12 to 17 becoming infected.

"I think it is really quite inevitable that they will be so at some point," he said.

Prof Van-Tam also pointed out that pupils could become infected during their GCSEs and A-levels when it is "extremely inconvenient to be laid low" with a cough, fever, and respiratory symptoms.

It comes as the rollout of jabs among all children aged between 12 and 15 began this week, with them being offered the chance to get a dose of the Pfizer vaccine through an in-school scheme.

However, there have been concerns around children being able to move forward with the jab without their parents' consent.

Prof Whitty made an attempt to reassure families when speaking to MPs.

"In general terms, the younger the child the more the absolute assumption would be that if there is a disagreement actually the parents will be the right people to actually turn to for this," he said.

"But the two ends of the spectrum in a sense are once you get to 16 there's a general assumption, and once you get to 18 there's an absolute assumption, that the person themselves will make a decision."

He added: "There is a bit of a sliding scale but in practice it's actually very, very rare that, particularly at the lower age ranges, that this is relevant at all because almost certainly there will be agreement either way and we're not trying to push this agreement between parents and children."