Some children as young as 12 should be allowed to overrule their parents on whether they have the COVID vaccine, a senior doctor has said.
Dr David Strain, a clinical lead for COVID services, told Sky News he believed there were 12-year-olds “mature enough” to decide to have the coronavirus jab without the consent of their legal guardians.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said parental consent will be required if the government decides that all 12 to 15-year-olds should be offered the jab.
However Dr Strain, who is senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, says a school nurse or GP could assess whether a child is capable of consenting to having the vaccine, even if their parents were opposed to it.
“Some children at the age of 12 are mature enough to make that call,” he said.
“It will be dependent on people with training – the school nurse, the GP – people who have sufficient training to identify that.”
Dr Strain said a similar assessment could be carried out to that given to girls under the age of 16 who want the contraception pill.
He added: “I would argue if we have children who are legally permitted to make decisions about whether they’re going to partake in underage sex, then a similar sort of competence procedure could apply to whether they have competence to take the vaccine or not.”
Dr Strain said he did not endorse forcibly giving the COVID vaccine to children who refuse it.
“With this particular vaccine, we are vaccinating children predominantly for the greater good, rather than for their individual good,” he said.
“If a child themselves refuses consent, and was said to be competent, then it would be almost impossible to give that jab.
“I would in no way endorse holding someone down and giving them a jab… when they’re not getting the massive medical benefits that the older adults are getting. They are getting marginal benefits.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided against recommending COVID vaccines for all 12 to 15-year-olds on health grounds alone, given the virus presents such a low risk to them.
The UK’s chief medical officers are currently reviewing the wider benefits of the move, such as reducing school absences, and they are expected to present their findings within days.
Asked whether the JCVI’s recommendation would result in fewer parents allowing their children to have the jab, Dr Strain replied: “That’s going to very dependent on the messaging that comes out from the chief medical officers.
“If the messaging from the chief medical officers is they are very much in favour and it’s very clear why they’re in favour, then I think most parents will go along with it.
“There’s huge trust for Chris Whitty and Jonathan Van-Tam and their respective colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“If it is a woolly statement or if it comes from a politician, rather than a chief medical officer, then I think the JCVI decision will have a massive impact.”