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Preparations should be ongoing to offer vaccinations to all aged 12+, says Bradshaw

Alliance Health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA has said Northern Ireland should continue to prepare to offer vaccinations to all children aged 12 and over, after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that the risk from COVID to children aged 12 to 15 is marginally higher than that of taking the vaccine.

The South Belfast MLA said it was important to recognise there remains growing uncertainty in the evidence in assessing the known and unknown risks associated with different vaccines on one hand, and with ‘long COVID’ on the other.

“There is also considerable lack of clarity as to what impact vaccines have on long COVID itself, as opposed to on more immediate illness where the benefits are well established,” she said.

“What is a little less clear, but will become apparent one way or the other in Northern Ireland over the next few weeks, is what benefit vaccinating schoolchildren would have to the spread of the virus among the wider population. The JCVI is stating the benefits would be minimal, and in fact vaccination is playing a lower role in stopping transmission of the virus itself than initially thought or than was evidently the case before the delta variant emerged. However, this seems to run contrary to the evidence we are seeing in Scotland, and we will soon have evidence of the impact of the return of schools here in Northern Ireland.

“The other concern is the JCVI advice assumes a certain percentage of the adult population has been vaccinated, when we know a slightly lower percentage has been vaccinated in Northern Ireland. That means the evidence base is slightly different here than in Great Britain.

“While it would be unwise not to follow the JCVI advice, it is evident consideration is now ongoing as to whether to offer the vaccination to all those aged 12 and above. Preparations should therefore continue to ensure, if this does become the policy, it can be implemented as swiftly as possible.”