The Government considers that the Opposition’s irresponsible reaction to the vaccination against COVID-19 of 12-15 year olds in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar is in the stone age. This is even more so after the move has been sanctioned by the Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and when such vaccination has 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. There are sound scientific, health and educational reasons behind the vaccination of 12-15 year olds.
The first mass campaign to vaccinate children against COVID-19 in the United States officially begun in May after the federal government there recommended administering the Pfizer-BioNTech 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 of this year. This followed a study of 2259 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 actual vaccine developed COVID-19. The following month, in April, the EMA approved the Moderna vaccine for 12-17 year old children as well. This was based on a study of 3732 children none of whom contracted COVID-19 after receiving the actual vaccine. The result is that 68% of 12-18 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. 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.
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.
It is already clear that, in relation to the wider population, persons who are unvaccinated are five times more likely to catch the delta variant of COVID-19 and eleven 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. 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. It found that fully vaccinated people were some eleven 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 thirteen 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.
It does not say much for the Opposition that they should choose to politicise the vaccination programme as well as everything else that happens in Gibraltar. Their 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.
The Minister for Public Health, Hon Professor John Cortes MP, said: ‘The benefits of vaccination against COVID-19 is even clearer now than when we started our 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. 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. I cannot see a good reason why any parent would wish to choose not to have their child vaccinated. 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.”