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Wednesday, September 14, 2022

England Refuses to Offer COVID Shots to Kids Under 12, While US Cities Mandate Them. Who’s Right?

The question is not whether children or adults should be given Covid vaccines. The question is who gets to choose.

Image Credit: iStock

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced last week that children under the age of 12 will no longer be offered Covid-19 vaccines, unless the children are deemed high risk.

The decision appears to have rankled The Guardian, which quoted several physicians who criticized the move.

“When we know there is a safe and effective vaccine available this seems unjustifiable to me,” Professor Christina Pagel of the University College London told the newspaper, noting that deaths from COVID shots are rare.

Precisely why small children are being denied Covid vaccines was something The Guardian didn’t share—apart from admitting they can occasionally result in death—perhaps because the UKHSA’s Green Book offers few details.

Presumably the decision stems from the fact that small children are by far the least likely to fall seriously ill from Covid combined with government data that shows myocarditis is a serious (though rare) side effect, particularly in young males.

Whatever the case, the UKHSA’s decision puts England in line with several other European countries—including Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark—that do not offer or recommend mRNA vaccines to healthy young children.

In the United States, on the other hand, some cities are pushing in a different direction.

In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser is embroiled in a bitter battle over her order that all students must be vaccinated for Covid-19 for in-person learning in schools, a policy that could have severe implications considering that an estimated 40 percent of black teens are unvaccinated.

“Among the impacts of this policy, it will almost certainly broaden racial educational gaps, given that the vaccination rate for 12-to-17 year old Black students is under 60 percent,” Janaiha Bennett, executive director of the Youth Leadership Foundation, wrote in Newsweek. “And this would be an absolute disaster.”

Washington, D.C. is one of few parts of the country requiring vaccination against the coronavirus to attend K-12 school (universities are a different matter), but other examples exist.

New Orleans in February added Covid vaccines to its list of required shots for kids 5 years and older, the Washington Post notes, while New York City requires students to be vaccinated if they wish to play sports or participate in other extracurricular activities.

‘Who Shall Decide’?

It’s strange. On one hand, you have European nations refusing to give Covid vaccines to young kids even though parents might want to vaccinate them. On the other hand, you have US cities forcing children to take a vaccine parents may want nothing to do with as a condition of attending school (or playing sports).

The common denominator here is not hard to spot: in both instances government officials get to choose what is best for the child. There are interesting parallels to this.

In May I wrote about the baby formula shortage and noted that the New York Times pointed out baby formula is one of the most regulated food products in the US. The US is not alone, however. European countries also have highly regulated baby formula markets. The somewhat comical result is that nearly all US baby formulas fail to meet EU standards, and virtually all EU brands fail to meet US standards.

Who gets the baby formula right, the EU or the US? As I noted at the time, this is the wrong question.

“The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best,” the economist Thomas Sowell reminds us.

The same can be said of vaccines. The question is not whether children or adults should be given Covid vaccines, the question is who gets to choose. Everywhere one looks, governments and bureaucrats are trying to make this decision for others. Some are saying children can’t get mRNA vaccines; others are saying children must get mRNA vaccines.

It’s bad enough when governments are deciding what kind of baby formula one must buy, but it’s arguably worse when governments are choosing who must or can’t take a vaccine that has the power to save lives and claim lives. The whole basis of informed consent is that humans are given information and then allowed to choose or reject treatment. It’s one of the foundations of medical ethics, but it seems to have gone right out the proverbial window during the pandemic.


One reason is undoubtedly that the pandemic created a climate of fear, which can create a demand for coercion. But I suspect the retreat of choice also stems from a broader cultural retreat from capitalism, a system that makes consumers sovereign instead of bureaucrats.

“The real bosses, in the capitalist system of market economy, are the consumers,” the economist Ludwig von Mises wrote in his book Bureaucracy. “They, by their buying and by their abstention from buying, decide who should own the capital and run the plants. They determine what should be produced and in what quantity and quality. Their attitudes result either in profit or in loss for the enterpriser.”

For decades Americans have slowly and quietly and perhaps unknowingly embraced a different system. In this system, government officials decide what butter is “safe.” What milk can be purchased and consumed. What kind of car is good for the environment and therefore available to purchase.

Instead of a system based on individual choice and mutual exchange, Americans have tacitly embraced a system that allows bureaucrats to decide for them—including who can or cannot (or must) take a vaccine with life-altering powers. (It should also be noted that we had vaccines from the very beginning of the Covid pandemic, but the FDA prohibited challenge trials that could have demonstrated their safety and effectiveness in a matter of weeks.)

All across the world people continue to squabble over whether the vaccines are safe and effective. They should seek to answer a different question: who gets to decide?

  • Jonathan Miltimore is the Senior Creative Strategist of at the Foundation for Economic Education.