Parents on vaccinating their teens: ‘I’m not anti-vax, but I don't want my son to be a guinea pig’

·5-min read
Teenagers are next on the list to be vaccinated - Bloomberg
Teenagers are next on the list to be vaccinated - Bloomberg

With the news that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is set to recommend that all 16 and 17 year olds be offered a Covid vaccine, we talk to parents to see what they think.

Christina Hopkinson, 51, mother of three from London

I’m a rabid pro-vaxxer. I was given a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine last June as part of a trial. Where others listen to true crime stories, I mainline podcasts called The Jab and How to Vaccinate the World.

My husband and I are double-vaccinated with just my three children, aged 17, 14 and 13 to go. Yes, when the prospect of vaccinating teenagers and children arose, I had a small ‘what if’ wobble – after all, there’s a very different balance of risks for those, like teenagers, for whom coronavirus presents an almost negligible danger combined with a slightly larger chance of a dangerous side effect of vaccination. Yet now it’s clear that our freedom depends on the victor of a race between variants and vaccinations, I find myself desperately hoping that they too will be soon asked to roll up their sleeves.

I will do everything I can to make sure they get whatever jab is offered. However, now that they’re no longer babies mollified with Calpol, I do have to ask them for their consent. Fortunately, their responses to a WhatsApp message of ‘jab?’ range from ‘whatever [thumbs up emoji]’ to ‘I want to go out with my friends and be safe knowing I won’t infect others’. My preternaturally pragmatic 17-year-old says: “I want to help the economy prosper. I don’t care about complications as it’s such a small percentage of risk that this is the logical thing to do.”

We’ve been told over the past 18 months that we all have our part to play to protect the elderly and the NHS, and this is just an extension of this. I’m in awe of how selfless the young have been in making sacrifices and my pride extends to their attitudes to continuing putting aside their own near immunity from severe Covid in order to help others. One of my son’s friends says she wants it to protect her family, some of whom are shielding, and doesn’t care about any risk.

It’s not all altruism though. Children and young people have suffered appallingly from lockdowns. Their education has been disrupted by having had far more time outside classrooms than in them since March 2020. We all want and need them to go back to school in September and stay there to avoid another year of cancelled exams and ever more yawning learning gaps between affluent pupils and the disadvantaged. Vaccinations will protect their education and futures.

I’m prepared to take this small near unknown risk to their physical health in order to mitigate the very real risks I see to their mental health of continued lockdown. They are at the stage where they are supposed to be going out into the world to explore, not holed up with their boring parents and a Netflix account.

And of course, if it will help us stay Covid-negative so we can holiday abroad as a family, that helps too.

Christina Hopkinson: ‘I will do everything I can to make sure they get whatever jab is offered’
Christina Hopkinson: ‘I will do everything I can to make sure they get whatever jab is offered’

Anna, 47, mother of two from South London (name has been changed)

Every time a mum at the school gate starts up a conversation about the vaccine, I have to make something very clear before I launch in: I am not an anti-vaxxer. My 12-year-old son has had all his routine childhood jabs, as have I. I believe in science and think vaccines are a great and necessary thing. But I will not be taking him to get a Covid jab.

The reason is very simple. I just don’t believe the data is there yet. I don’t see how, with such a rush to get these jabs out, and with so few people involved in the testing process (even fewer of them were children) we can be sure of the long term side effects. I have a science background and have been poring over the studies as they have emerged as well as the anecdotal reports coming from all corners of the world. Children have a 99.99 per cent survival rate for Covid. Given everything I’ve read, I don’t feel secure enough to allow my son to be a guinea pig for a vaccine we don’t really know enough about yet.

Young people can, of course, spread Covid, but once high risk people have all been vaccinated, surely unvaccinated children pose far less of a danger?

I know plenty of parents who would object on similar lines. When I speak to my friends who have children of similar ages, around half aren’t keen on getting their kids vaccinated, though most have taken it themselves.

I am slightly concerned about the possibility of vaccine passports, and needing them for travel or to attend big events. But there are many people who can’t get the vaccine because of health reasons; surely they won’t be exempt from attending football matches or travelling abroad?

My husband and I have spoken to our son about it. It’s hard for him not to be influenced by us. At the moment, he’s happy to do whatever we think is best. We’ve told him that once the Covid vaccine is fully FDA approved and we have a better understanding of any potential dangers, I might change my mind. Until then, I feel it’s too risky, too much of an unknown.

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