Professor Adam Finn, head of the Bristol Children’s Vaccine Centre, said giving the inoculations to millions of children may be necessary to keep the virus at bay.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In terms of trials in children we have got one study underway and certainly a lot enthusiasm and engagement with that and no problems so far – just using the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine in teenagers and expecting shortly to be given the go-ahead to start recruiting younger children from the age of five.
The professor of paediatrics at Bristol University, who also sits on the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, expects decisions will be made later in the summer on whether to give jabs to children, after it becomes clearer what the impact of the vaccine roll-out has been and whether it will be necessary to immunise children as well to keep the virus under control.
“The important aspect of that for children is that we desperately want to keep schools open into the next academic year and avoid any further disruption to education,” he explained, stressing he was speaking in a personal capacity.
“So, I think this would benefit children if it turns out to be necessary.
“But clearly, we don’t want to do this unless it is necessary because it would be an additional difficulty, cost and so on to do.”
He explained that he would not be “comfortable” immunising children just for the benefit of others given that they are unlikely to suffer severe coronavirus disease.
“But if it does look as though it’s necessary that will be driven by the observation that the virus is still circulating and there is jeopardy for children in terms of disruption to their education,” he continued.
“So, I think that probably squares the circle if it does prove necessary.”
He added: “Of course, there are children who do get sick when they experience Covid, but very small numbers, both from the classic respiratory disease but also a few get this inflammatory syndrome.
“But the main reason for doing it would be to try and keep things functioning normally across society including schools.”
Asked about the potential very rare risk for blood clots with the AstraZeneca vaccine, after Germany suspended its use for people aged under 60, Prof Finn said: “I think one thing we can say at this moment is that the benefits (of the vaccine) outweigh the risk.
“As things stand, the risks of Covid, and of blood clots indeed caused by Covid, are massively greater than the risks that may conceivably exist as a result of receiving this vaccine.”
Many vaccines currently in use “do have very rare, unexpected serious side effects but we still use them because the balance of risk and benefit is greatly in favour of using them,” he added.
“It could turn out that that’s the case for either one or even more than one of the vaccines we’ve developed against Covid. So, it is always in the end a matter of balancing risk and benefit.
“Just as we all get up in the morning and go to work and take a mortal risk … we find that acceptable because we might die in a car accident or be knocked down by a bus. We have to get used to the idea that using vaccines and drugs and medicines is not without risk, but they’re very, very small risks, and the risks of not using them is obviously much greater.”
Both the UK and European medicine regulators have said countries should continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine.