The difficulty to establish a suitable risk-benefit balance regarding the vaccination of children and teenagers against COVID-19 poses ethical dilemmas that must be taken into account to facilitate decision-making. This is the focal point of the research that identified the risks and benefits of vaccinating the paediatric population, conducted by professors Laura García Garcés, Marta Lluesma Vidal and Raquel Carcelén, professors at the Faculty of Health Sciences of the CEU Cardenal Herrera University (CEU UCH) of Valencia, together with Ángel Gerónimo, from the Purísima Franciscanas School of the EFI Foundation. Their work has been deemed the best poster-format communication submitted to the XIII International Congress of the Spanish Association of Bioethics and Medical Ethics (AEBI), held in Logroño. The lack of data on the medium and long-term effects of the vaccines, coupled with the fact that COVID-19 does not represent a significant threat for the health of minors, makes the authors consider “the need to weigh both the benefits that minors could obtain from the vaccination as well as the risks to which they could be exposed, in order to facilitate decision-making”.
To produce the prized study, named “Consideraciones éticas de la vacunación de niños y adolescentes contra la COVID-19” (Ethical considerations of vaccinating children and teenagers against COVID-19), the professors conducted a comprehensive analysis of the most recent scientific publications on the ethical aspects of vaccinating minors against COVID-19 from the Cochrane, Pubmed, Web of Science and EBSCO host databases. They extracted the main ethical dilemmas linked to vaccinating minors against COVID-19 from this analysis.
According to the authors, “in the case of adults it is easier to establish a suitable risk-benefit balance of vaccination, taking into account the high morbidity and mortality from this disease among this population. However, COVID-19 does not represent such an important threat for the health of children and teenagers, as the disease is usually mild or asymptomatic in this group of the population”.
In this sense, they recall that only a small part of minors affected by the disease have to be taken to ICUs and require ventilatory support. Mortality is also very rare, occurring in just 0.48% of the considered population. In addition to the direct benefit of vaccination not being as clear in this group of population, the authors also include as a risk the fact that the scientific community still does not know the medium and long-term secondary effects of these vaccines.
Collective immunity and the minor’s interests
In their analysis, the authors also consider both sides of collective immunity regarding minors. “On one hand, achieving collective immunity could accelerate the return to normality, which would have a positive impact on the life and full personal development of the minors, who have been affected by situations of social isolation and remote education. But vaccinating minors to protect the most vulnerable people could be based on a utilitarian principle according to which the minor’s interests could be contingent upon society’s interests,” warn the researchers. They conclude that establishing a suitable risk-benefit balance is essential to facilitate decision-making regarding vaccinating children and teenagers against COVID-19. This study has been recognised as the best poster-format communication in the International Congress held recently in Logroño.