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Sensemaker: Vaccinating teenagers

Monday 13 September 2021

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Iran said the International Atomic Energy Agency could install cameras in its nuclear facilities, thereby avoiding official censure and buying time for more talks on a new nuclear deal.
  • Emma Raducanu said she was ready for anything after winning the US Open and a cheque for $2.5 million.
  • A team led by the son of the artist known as Christo began wrapping the Arc de Triomphe in silver fabric in his memory. 

Vaccinating teenagers

As of next week schoolchildren aged 12 to 15 may be offered Covid vaccines in the UK. If so that would be three weeks after English state schools reopened for the autumn term, five weeks after Scottish state schools reopened and three months after France began vaccinating this age group. 

The shift follows months of British prevarication about the merits of vaccinating teenagers even though:

  • the UK’s adult Covid vaccination programme started as one of the quickest and most successful in the world;
  • despite the success of that roll-out Britain is now struggling with daily infection numbers nearly five times higher than the EU average;
  • the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech shot for over-12s in June; and
  • there is a strong case for vaccinating secondary school children based on i) their ability to transmit the virus even if asymptomatic, ii) their risk of becoming seriously ill with it, albeit in small numbers, and iii) the still poorly understood lifetime health risks associated with Long Covid.

Responsibility for official guidance on whether to vaccinate over-12s fell to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which opted to wait for more data from Israel and the US rather than recommend vaccination when the MHRA gave its approval in principle in June. The committee began to soften its stance last week, saying the argument was “finely balanced” and handing responsibility to the UK’s chief medical officers. The Times reports today that England’s CMO, Chris Whitty, is expected to recommend vaccination for over-12s on education, mental health and social development grounds.

The case against was based on:

  • very rare cases of myocarditis, or heart inflammation, affecting about one in 100,000 children who got the Pfizer vaccine in the US over the summer, which is many fewer than became seriously ill with Covid; 
  • a broader JCVI decision to prioritise individual risk factors over the benefit to the population at large of limiting teenagers’ ability to transmit the virus;
  • worries about vaccinating children in rich countries while poorer ones still have little vaccine available even for vulnerable adults.

This supply worry is unfounded: there is more than enough vaccine in the world for over-12s, booster shots and sufficient supply for under-vaccinated countries. Meanwhile the only other country to take Britain’s approach to vaccinating younger teenagers among the world’s 24 most heavily vaccinated countries is Sweden. Both are now outliers as others press ahead with vaccinating secondary schoolchildren:

The reasons for the UK’s stubbornly high infection rate despite a high overall adult vaccination rate are complex, but the decision to delay vaccination of over-12s is likely to be a factor. As of last week average UK case numbers for all age groups were 53 per 100,000 compared with 11 in the EU. Britain’s fast start in the vaccine race – which was how the government chose to view it – has left it out of breath.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

True colours
The new-look Taliban that promised an amnesty for those who worked for western countries and NGOs has been hunting down and torturing and killing former intelligence operatives for the old Afghan government. One had all his fingernails pulled out before being killed, Christina Lamb reported yesterday. The Taliban has also ordered universities to segregate lectures by gender (schools were already split). Where enough lecture theatres aren’t available for separate sessions, curtains are already going up to split them in two. Taliban ministers haven’t formally banned specific subjects for women but a review is coming, the final decisions will be based on Sharia law, and headscarves and face coverings are already mandatory. The new look looks pretty old.

New things technology, science, engineering

This has nothing to do with horses. Imagine the digital purity of bitcoin combined with the analogue security of being pegged to real money. That’s what you get with stablecoins, in principle. In practice, as the value of all cryptocurrencies surges past $2 trillion and of stablecoins passes $125 billion, the US Treasury Department has begun worrying about stablecoin regulation. Reuters reports treasury officials met last week with senior stablecoin people to ask, among other things, what would happen if a lot of stablecoin holders wanted to cash in their stakes for real money all at once. No one knows. What’s the point of stablecoin? Apparently as an intermediary to make it easier to shift assets from pure crypto to actual cash. Will it not therefore make currency markets less stable, not more?

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

“Flex” Richardson
Emma Raducanu’s coach is resolutely unglamorous by tennis tour standards. Andrew “Flex” Richardson used to spend most of his time coaching at the independent Culford School in Suffolk. He’s known Raducanu since she was 12 and was brought back into her team this summer after she parted company with Nigel Sears after Wimbledon. He’s 6’ 7”, once made it to the third round at Wimbledon and is a very calming character, she says. He is the man responsible for her one-day-at-a-time mantra. So it’s not rocket science. Mark Petchey, another British ex-tour player, is among those said to have suggested a slightly different forehand grip to give Raducanu more power without loss of control, but the Flex approach has been to let her play her own game. Turns out with natural genius less coaching is more. The Telegraph has a good profile

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Norwegian non-payment?
Indonesia has scrapped a planned pact with Norway to halt deforestation in return for cash payments totalling $56 million. It says the deal is off because of a “lack of concrete progress on the implementation of the obligation of the government of Norway”. Norway responds that discussions on payments were “constructive and progressing well”. Indonesia says the aborted deal in no way lessens its determination to save its own forests, but this is a big backward step. Compensating countries with forests for leaving them alone is the only way to preserve the world’s great natural carbon sinks. One suspects there’s more to this than Norway simply deciding it wants to keep its money.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Dumfries and dumber 
The renovation of Dumfries House is proving awfully expensive in cash terms and in reputational damage to the man who would be king of England. First Prince Charles grubbied himself in a deal involving a promise of help to get a knighthood and UK citizenship for a Saudi billionaire in return for £1.5 million (his courtiers insist he was not privy to the details, although correspondence suggests otherwise). And now he seems to have accepted £600,000 from a Russian banker only for those courtiers to divert the money to another of his charities when they found said banker had done time for money laundering. The banker insists his prosecution was political. Either way, he emerges as the classier party in the scandal. Why didn’t Charles Inc. just return his money?

The week ahead

– former tennis player Boris Becker appears in court charged with bankruptcy offences; party leader Nicola Sturgeon speaks at Scottish National Party autumn conference, 14/09 – Boris Johnson expected to announce Covid winter plan; Booker Prize for Fiction shortlist announced; House of Commons select committee on safe routes and resettlement of Afghan nationals, 15/09  Battle of Britain Day; target date for all UK adults to receive both Covid vaccine doses, 16/09 – England men’s football manager Gareth Southgate speaks at Royal Television Society convention, 17/09 – London Fashion Week begins; UK retail sales figures due, 19/09 – party leader Ed Davey speaks at Lib Dems’ autumn conference

– initial hearing takes place in New York in civil case brought against Prince Andrew by Virginia Giuffre over alleged sexual abuse, 14/09 – Apple iPhone launch event; recall election takes place to replace California governor Gavin Newsom; UN General Assembly convenes in New York, 15/09 – Yom Kippur begins; Time magazine releases list of most influential people in the world, 16/09 – Mexican Independence Day; Emmanuel Macron meets Angela Merkel, 17/09 – US House speaker Nancy Pelosi talks at Chatham House event; hearing takes place in case of Kyle Rittenhouse, teenager charged over August 2020 Kenosha shootings, 18/09 – right-wing rally takes place on Capitol Hill in support of jailed 6 January protestors

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Giles Whittell

Xavier Greenwood

Produced by Phoebe Davis and edited by Xavier Greenwood. 

Photographs Getty Images