New Covid variants may require jabs for children, UEA experts warn

Covid vaccination

Only children at higher risk from coronavirus infection are to be offered a Covid vaccine in the UK. - Credit: Getty Images

Stopping the emergence of more dangerous new vaccine-resistant Covid mutations may require the vaccination of children, Norwich experts have warned.  

Researchers at the University of East Anglia and the Earlham Institute said an “arms race” with the virus meant rising cases could provide opportunities for it to evolve into even more transmissible variants.

In an article in the medical journal Virulence, the researchers say they fear that any new variants could be more virulent, more vaccine resistant, and more dangerous for children and vulnerable groups such as transplant patients.

Earlham Institute at Norwich Research Park. Picture: Anthony Cullen

Researchers at Earlham Institute which is part of Norwich Research Park. - Credit: Anthony Cullen

Lead author, Prof Kevin Tyler, from the UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Although vaccines have weakened the link between infection and mortality, they should not be used as an argument to justify a broad change in policy for countries experiencing an exponential increase in infection numbers.

“This is because most of the world’s population are still unvaccinated, and even in countries with efficient vaccination programmes, a significant proportion of society, particularly children, remain unprotected.”


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The research team said relaxing restrictions boosts transmission and increases the risk of vaccine-resistant strains emerging.

The prospect of vaccinating children has proved controversial but Prof Tyler said slowing down the rate of new variant emergence required reducing the number of infected people, including children, through vaccination in combination with other public health policies.

“In most cases, children are not vaccinated against Covid-19 because the risk of them becoming seriously ill is very low,” he said.

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“But new strains may evolve with higher transmissibility in children, and vaccinating children may become necessary to control the emergence of new variants.”

Aerial view of Norwich Research Park

Aerial view of Norwich Research Park - Credit: UEA

Children may become particularly at risk because they are the only group that has remained unvaccinated, he added. 

Co-author and director of the Earlham Institute, Prof Neil Hall, said: "As long as there are large numbers of unvaccinated people around the world transmitting the virus, we're all at risk.

"When we weigh up the benefits and risks in vaccinating young people, we have to consider the impact on wider society too. 

Professor Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute, one of the establishments at Norwich Researc

Professor Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute, one of the establishments at Norwich Research Park. - Credit: Archant

“The current approach to protecting young people seems to be letting them reach herd immunity through infection. 

“Every day that approach continues, we give the virus the upper hand and prolong this pandemic - increasing the burden on healthcare systems and economies."

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