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The toxic war over teenage vaccines Too many parents can't see beyond their own politics

A Dutch child gets jabbed (Photo by Patrick van Katwijk/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

A Dutch child gets jabbed (Photo by Patrick van Katwijk/BSR Agency/Getty Images)


September 16, 2021   5 mins

Of all the fights I imagined having with my teenage sons, contesting their right to undergo a mildly painful medical procedure of little immediate benefit to them has never been one of them. All this time I’ve been fretting over hardcore pornography and illegal drugs, and it’s “doing Pfizer” that could be the problem.

Judging by the stream of recent headlines, petitions and open letters, parents of 12 to 15-year-olds could soon be heading for a showdown over the “right to be vaccinated against Covid”. The UK’s Chief Medical Officers this week announced a plan to offer them jabs — despite the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s advice that the direct benefits for healthy children were too marginal.

And while parents will be required to give their consent for their child to be vaccinated, a child will be able to override their parents’ refusal providing he or she is deemed to have “enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what’s involved in their treatment” (otherwise known as being Gillick competent).

Covid-19 has always been a crisis in search of a culture war, and the response to this announcement has been no exception. When such luminaries as Gillian McKeith and Laurence Fox, and groups with titles such as Family Defence League and Lawyers for Liberty, start advising parental resistance, you know it’s about more than the scientific specifics of just one jab. Suddenly it is about personal freedom, the rejection of state interference in family life and the principle that a parent should decide what is right for their child. It is about where you stand politically and how you want to be perceived.

I’ll be honest: I do not want to be standing alongside Laurence Fox. I know which “side” of this debate I am meant to be on — which one suits both my political persuasions and my parenting style. And it is that, more than any in-depth medical knowledge, which tempts me to declare myself fine with my own children overriding my consent (were it not for the fact that this in itself constitutes a form of giving consent — the eternal paradox of liberal parenting).

I find the idea of a child ending up in mediation with their own parents over the right to be vaccinated not just unlikely, but bizarre (the idea of slammed doors, mealtime sulks, plaintive cries of “but EVERYONE else has had one!”). Yet for others, the anxiety is real, with schools being inundated with letters from parents fearful that vaccinations will take place behind their backs.

Perhaps I’m unusual, but ever since I was allowed — just allowed! — to take my firstborn home from the hospital, I’ve been sceptical about the idea that parents know best.

Parental decisions are informed not just by love, but politics. We know this, though we tend to tell ourselves it is those other parents — those of the opposing political tribe — who are getting it wrong. This inconsistency is particularly glaring in current debates on the treatment of young people with gender dysphoria. There are parents who support social transition, the prescription of puberty blockers and/or the use of binders, and parents who don’t — with both sides insisting they are motivated by an understanding of their child inaccessible to anyone else. In accounts of raising trans children, or opposing a child’s desire to transition, “I know what’s best for my child” merges with “any loving parent in my position would make the same choice” (or, at the sharp end, “any parent who would not make the same choice obviously wants their child dead”).

It is uncomfortable to admit that your love, and what is in the “best interests of the child”, is tainted by your own background, self-image, friendship groups and even personal traumas. Yet I know mine is, even when I think I’m right. Indeed, it is by watching the Covid vaccination debate play out that I’ve felt, more than ever, how much more attractive it is to cling to our slogans rather than admit how little we know.

I have my own self-defeating list of things that I, as a parent, should and should not be allowed to do. Not allowed: smacking children; restricting access to contraception and abortion (providing safeguarding checks are made); vetoing access to good sex education (I decide what “good” is). Allowed: vetoing access to dodgy sex education (I decide what “dodgy” is); intervening where a treatment constitutes self-harm (I decide what “self-harm” is).

I know this is provisional and shaky, riven with qualifications, making the bodies of my children (and yours) a testing ground for my politics. I do think there are areas — such as the administration of physical punishment, or the use of breast binders — where it is possible to make a more objective case for harm being done, but the template of “parents’ rights” is unhelpful. With the proposed Covid vaccinations, the situation is different still; the play-off is not between potential losses and gains for one’s own child, but potential gains for other people, perhaps even yourself.

Here we have an example where the primary beneficiaries of a treatment may not be — indeed, most probably are not — those receiving it. As a result, the simplistic concept of individuals, or their parents, knowing what’s best for them falls apart. Writing in The Independent, Victoria Richards argues in favour of “competent” children making the final decision on vaccination using the principle of “knowing best”:

“Some children under the age of 15 will be deemed “Gilick competent”, some won’t
 Parents or carers know their children best — so chances are, you know which camp your child would likely fall into. If you’re a parent who’s vaccine-hesitant, I can understand why you might feel upset – even angry — about such a scenario. But what I really feel is that we should trust our kids; many of whom are mature, intelligent and information-savvy well before the age of 12.”

I think my children are mature, intelligent and information-savvy; the trouble is, I don’t think the debate over having a Covid jab is a test of these qualities. This is a complex situation, hijacked by narratives about state control, science and freedom. It is also one in which moral pressure is being exerted on children, one that might come from schools, but which could also come from parents who want their children to be vaccinated. Coercing children — however subtly — to do something with their bodies which isn’t primarily for their benefit is questionable. But so, too, is making that body the site for spurious, abstract arguments about liberty and parental infallibility. Neither side is coming off well.

Richards goes on to invoke the principle of “my body, my choice”: “We can’t very well teach our children that they have the right to say “no” to unwanted physical contact one minute, and then demand they kiss an aged aunt the next
 And if we are teaching our kids that their bodies (rightly) belong to them, then that should go for whatever it is they decide about the vaccine, too.”

But this is a reversal of our usual message regarding consent, because the focus is on the right to say “yes”, not “no”. There’s something telling in the way that liberal leanings push us towards making the dominant message “you have the right to override your parents if they say no”, rather than “you have the right to override them if they say yes”. It smacks — just a little — of an uncomfortable political division on consent, whereby some of us only want to focus on the giving rather than the withholding. For all the accusations of illiberal moral panic one might throw at those raising alarm about the vaccine, “my body, my choice” is a slogan that would seem to me to apply better to the children saying no for themselves. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I find myself veering, ever so slightly, Laurence Fox-wards.

I am not going to fight with my children over the vaccine; they want to have one and I will not stop them. But there are bigger questions to ask, not just about what influence parents should have, but what we are using our children for. Children have been asked to make significant, necessary sacrifices for adults; it is not necessary to use them to fight our own culture wars.


Victoria Smith is a writer and creator of the Glosswitch newsletter.

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Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

There is a common misconception in educated circles that if parents adopt a hands-off approach to their child’s moral development then their child will independently discover and intelligently apply their own value system. They don’t. If you, as a parent, don’t instill your own (hopefully wholesome) values on to your children, someone else will.

Last edited 2 years ago by Julian Farrows
Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

brilliant comment.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

I am afraid the education system has been busy doing that for at least the last 30 years largely based on the premise the value systems of parents has to be over-written

Susan Marshall
Susan Marshall
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

My mother always said someone would indoctrinate her children and so she was determined it would be her not someone else.

Lee Jones
Lee Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Susan Marshall

Well said, but not all mothers are caring (mine), so just check with all the aunts you like 1st


Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Beautifully put. Agreed.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
2 years ago

The biggest point, that the state may not know best, is missing from this discussion.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

Or that the state may even have nefarious intentions.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

More likely the state is simply clueless.

David Owsley
David Owsley
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

that is what they hope we think and just tut tut….it is far more sinister

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  David Owsley

Rockefeller General Educational Board Meeting (1906):

In our dreams . . .people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [of intellectual and moral education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets, or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen — of whom we have an ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple. . .we will organize children. . . and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Quite right. Google “Hanlon’s Razor”.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

This. I think we can best assume that with rare exceptions, parents care deeply about the wellbeing of their children. The state? Perhaps neutral on a good day, if I’m being generous.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

The state does know best – but only what is best for them.

Peter Taylor
Peter Taylor
2 years ago

Not ‘may’ but does not know best and has demonstrated incompetence at every turn. And especially with regard to the science – where do we here the doubts expressed by Dr Robert Malone, who was involved in developing the mRNA ‘vaccine’ – stating that they may have made a big mistake with injecting the spike-protein, as it is causing long-term auto-immune reactions, and children should not be vaccinated – only those at high risk from the virus? This incompetent state has suppressed scientific criticism and already drifted into a kind of ‘techno-fascism’ that it cannot recognise as such.

D Hockley
D Hockley
2 years ago

It is not just that the state does not know best, it is that the sate knows nothing at all.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago

What is really insidious is how governments and “experts” are now allowed to get away with mission creep, lies and outright obfuscation. A simple google search will throw out articles from last year, from “progressives” media and experts, mocking or attacking Trump for suggesting the virus might have originated in China, that facemasks might not be miraculaously stop microscopic aerosols, that the vaccine might be ready within a year or that certain medicines might be effective after all.
Those same exalted people, instead of being discredited, are now insisting that a vaccine that was rushed through, which may have risks, should be imposed on children who have close to 0% chance of dying or even developing severe symptoms, and in defiance of parents because what would they know?
I wonder what those vaccine bigots would say if they had a major redevelopment of their house which normally takes a year, and some builder comes over and says: “why don’t you use this marvellous new, untested building technique which can complete the work in a month instead of a year, and by the way you need to sign a document waiving any liabilities if the house crashes down sometime as a result, all very normal you know”
Incidentally, I got the vaccine. It made sense because my wife is high risk. If I were a 15-40 year old with no constant, direct contact with older or high risk people, I would not get the vaccine. Guess that makes me an anti-vaxxer.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

What is the “marvellous new, untested” vaccine development technique to which you refer? I thought they got done so quickly because governments splurged unprecedented amounts of money. Isn’t the better analogy that of a builder who says, “If you spend ten times as much, I can hire extra guys and get this done quicker”?

Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

He means mRNA which is new, only tested previously as therapy for cancer I believe and in which it reportedly failed, and possibly also vectored DNA vaccines

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

The government and experts get away with it because “we” allow it. They have used psychological techniques to generate fear and the belief that they are the saviours.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

There is a tiny bit here about what informs parental decisions, but nothing about whether the adolescents are making an informed choice. ‘How to make an informed choice’ is one of the things parents need to teach their children, because goodness knows they won’t be learning that in school unless their school is very unusual.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

How many adults have made an informed opinion on the vaccines? They don’t know the difference between a relative risk reduction and an absolute risk reduction so they have been fooled into accepting that the vaccines work. They also have no idea about the risk of the vaccines because that was not included in the trials.

Hilary LW
Hilary LW
2 years ago

This is not about “politics” – it’s about science. There is no scientific justification whatsoever in favour of giving these experimental jabs to children, who are at zero risk from the virus. There is sound scientific evidence that a minority of children have suffered severe and life-changing adverse effects from these injections, and some healthy teenagers have died. What responsible parent would consent to putting their child at risk in this way? And no-one knows the long-term effects of these injections, and the cumulative effects on the natural immune system. This is not politics, but science and morality and common sense. Unfortunately there has been relentless propaganda and emotional blackmail targeted at children and young people, seeking to persuade them that somehow in getting the jab they’ll be doing a duty to protect others. Science shows that this is nonsense – these jabs do not prevent either infection or transmission of Covid-19, and are proving particularly useless against the Delta variant – in fact, have probably allowed this mutation to develop and flourish. That is not “politics” either, but biology. What a pathetic article.

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary LW

As my son says “a good product sells itself”.

Helen Hughes
Helen Hughes
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary LW

Exactly. Thanks for this comment.

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
2 years ago

This should not even be a discussion. The judges at Nuremburg gave their view on the ethics of injecting test vaccines into children which cannot be of any medical benefit to them, and nothing has changed in the subsequent 75 years.

Graff von Frankenheim
Graff von Frankenheim
2 years ago

What is worrying about this piece is that there are apparently many parents who are unable to discern that it is the fabricated Covid “crisis”, the hysterical and ruinous government response and the serf-making vaccines that are all part of a global political and economic power grab of colossal proportions and that going along with it will make their child’s life (and that of their descendants) utterly miserable and dystopian. The evidence is truly everywhere and warnings have come from many reputable thinkers and yet parents are giving up their childrens’ futures. This is 1 million times more important than smoking pot

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

The article below was sent to me today. The outline is that two top FDA officials have resigned and put their signatures to a paper in the Lancet warning against booster shots. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)02046-8/fulltext
The article in its entirety should be read by everyone in the ongoing attempt to ascertain the risks vs benefits of vaccines (especially boosters) – and now as they are being let’s be honest, pressured onto children.
https://brownstone.org/articles/the-meaning-of-the-fda-resignations/
One of our frequent posters in the sciences has been warning for some time about the dangers of boosters.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

The Lancet report is using relative risk reduction which is not the correct value and so it presents efficacies of around 95%. The figure we need for the entire population is the absolute reduction which is 1% or less. Many of the studies are observational and to be of any value they should be randomised control trial. The Lancet is not a reliable source of information any more, and it started years ago when they were supporting Andrew Wakefield and his false claim that the MMR vaccine caused Autism.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

I could go with the fact that some of the Lancet papers are not reliable – after all they published the compromised hydroxychloroquine paper showing that it was ineffective. That said, we have seen recently that a lot of science is being shown to be on shaky ground.
More importantly, did you read the article and if you disagree with it, do you think a) the boosters are safe and b) can you suggest a reason why the FDA officials resigned.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Very intersting article – thanks! Still, the article has nothing to say about the risk/benefit ration for vaccines in general, or for children. Their argument against booster vaccines are

  1. Most of the (considerable) benefit from vaccines is already there from the original vaccination, so there is less left to gain.
  2. The newest data do seem to show that immunity declines with time, but protection against severe disease is much more robust, and it is still possible that part of the decline may be an artefact.
  3. Boosters will be more effective and gain us more information if we apply them later when we know more.
  4. Scarce vaccines should not be used for boosting as long as there are so many unvaccinated people (in the third world and elsewhere) who need them more.

So basically they are not saying that booster vaccines do not provide any benefit, but that it is a bad use of resources, and it will cost relatively little to wait and learn more (unlike when vaccination started). Quite convincing, on boosters, but it does not generalise the way you want it to.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

This should be presented to children and their parents (and society) in a very short and clear risk vs benefits argument. In that way it is likely there will be consensus between adults and children.
As there is so much at stake (huge rewards for big pharma and everyone aligned to them – all of them greedy adults), I do not anticipate this happening.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

It has been presented using lies and fear to persuade people to have an untried and basically ineffective vaccine. If you look at the trial results and know about statistics then you will see how easy it is for the government to deceive people. They have used a relative risk reduction, which is a valid calculation giving an efficacy of around 95%, but figure that matters is the absolute risk reduction which is around 1% or less. This means that 100 people have to be vaccinated for 1 person to benefit. I have seen test results that show even lower benefits requiring over 200 to be vaccinated. This is why the vaccine will not control the virus.

Susan Marshall
Susan Marshall
2 years ago

“Perhaps I’m unusual, but ever since I was allowed — just allowed! — to take my firstborn home from the hospital, I’ve been sceptical about the idea that parents know best.”
So you are definitely of the opinion that your children are the property of the state.

There is no case for vaccination to protect others. We now know that it doesn’t. It protects you from being severely ill.

Why do people feel that they cannot agree with people of other tribes? Cannot bear to be associated with Laurence Fox, even if you agree with him.

I am concerned that so many people cannot think for themselves and have the guts to tread their own path, regardless of who you might be agreeing with on one topic or another. That ALL ideas about ALL things must be in common with your gang. It means you end up proselytizing yourself.

Helen Hughes
Helen Hughes
2 years ago
Reply to  Susan Marshall

Well said!

Marcus Scott
Marcus Scott
2 years ago

“…contesting their right to undergo a mildly painful medical procedure of little immediate benefit to them has never been one of them.”
It is not a “right”. If young people are given the “right” to overrule their parent’s decision to take the vaccine or not take the vaccine that would be a “right”. That is not what is on offer. The state is giving the children “power”. Power to overrule their parent’s but only where the parents have taken the “wrong”, non-state approved decision.
“Children have been asked to make significant, necessary sacrifices for adults”
No they have not. Children have not been “asked” anything. They have been deprived of their liberty and education without their consent. It is infuriating that dishonest propagandists such as this author have repeatedly characterised that which is compulsory as voluntary.
If you are in your 50s, as I am, and you are asking or demanding that a twelve year old child make a sacrifice for your health by taking a risk with his or her health, however small that risk may be, then you are a coward and you are the very embodiment of the selfishness and degeneracy that will be the end of us.

jim peden
jim peden
2 years ago

It seems that the idea of ‘informed choice’ is the straw man here. At the moment there is only misinformed choice. No one – not epidemiologists or virologists or even the prime minister – correctly knows even what the short or medium term consequences of this vaccination are let alone the long term ones. Our children are the ones who will have to face any long term consequences. Only time – and diligent, unbiased investigation and debate will reveal the truth of the matter. These are commodities that are in short supply. A sensible strategy would be to wait as long as possible.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

The point is whether you are happy for your child to undergo a medical procedure, for which there is considerably more risk than benefit to them as an individual, for reasons that are political and social rather than medical. In particular, are you happy for them to be used as a human shield to satisfy the demands and agenda of the teaching unions?
There is also a wider principle. Do you think it is acceptable for your child to sacrifice their education, their social lives, their opportunity to do a part time job and, now, potentially their health for the sake of adults whom they don’t know? Why should the able, high achieving young, who have the potential to contribute considerably to society, be sacrificed for those whose contribution is over, or do not possess the ability to make one?
I think the best message that any parent can give to their child is to tell them to put their own education, health and well-being first. Let ‘others’ look after themselves.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Well I wouldn’t teach such overt selfishness to a child, but the rest I agree with.

Dan Croitoru
Dan Croitoru
2 years ago

That is true altruism not selfishness. You can’t love the other if you don’t know how to love yourself

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Croitoru
Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago

If this were just an issue about whether or not children should be vaccinated it would be cut and dried and the obvious answer is not, simply because they don’t need it and nor does anyone else need them to have it because they are not major vectors of the virus. The Swedish experience proves that. Furthermore, evidence is emerging that while the risk of both Covid and vaccination is tiny, it is greater in the latter. And that is before we get into the discussion about totally unknown long term effects. But that isn’t the issue is it?
The real issue is one of control. Who controls the children? If I had children and decided against them being vaccinated for the reasons above, and then the state decided that, with a little bit of help from them, my children could over-rule my decision, I would have only one thing to say. Since I am clearly superfluous to requirements in terms of bring up my children, please take them into care just as soon as they are vaccinated. Think I’m joking? Don’t bet on it.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

We need find out who is in the role of Prof Pavlov ringing the bells to control the weak minded.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
2 years ago

Any child who has been even slightly exposed to the relentless government and media propaganda about Covid, will choose to have the vaccine. The point is whether that choice is a free one in any sense of the word.

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
2 years ago

I appreciate the honesty of the author in her acknowledgement that the benefit of the vaccine her sons are intending to receive will mainly go to reducing the risk for others. I’ll assume she has discussed this with them. Similarly hope they are aware of the myocarditis risk for young males.
Given the very small risk posed by both the vaccines or remaining unvaccinated for this age group there probably will be quite a few more important issues/decisions before the sons reach adulthood.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

“I do not want to be standing alongside Laurence Fox.”
I do. I just happen to disagree with him about vaccination.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

Pathetic idea from the government. Logically right wing ‘freedom’ is congruent here with anti establishment anarchic weirdy lefty ‘freedom’. Try that one in Singapore or a more rational country like Denmark where 80% of the pop over 12 are vaccinated. It also encourages those who can’t count- the ones who think flying is dangerous but who will happily drive a car regularly, who can’t even cope with a weather forecast that mentions a percentage chance of rain without dumbly complaining ‘is it gonna rain then?’ What a thicko population we have- ignorant through poor history teaching of the ravages of the past- stupidly proud of their ‘health’ without an iota of understanding of the science that has allowed us to be so healthy.

Helen Hughes
Helen Hughes
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Science that has allowed us to be so healthy? I don’t think we need science to allow us to be healthy. We need fresh and clean air, good nutrition, exercise, healthy relationships ((including at the moment online, for example being treated civilly and without dehumanisation) and stress in manageable amounts. We also need a sense of personal sovereignty. My good health certainly has never depended on science “allowing” me to have it. I see evidence everywhere of how “science” is making us unhealthy through air pollution, stressful lives, a lack of beauty in our urban environments, pushing us ever further into our intellects and away from our bodies and souls. If you are talking of vaccinations, which I presume you are, and maybe antibiotics and various other pharmaceuticals, they may well have their place, but they are not what “allows us” to be healthy. They are what we use when we think we won’t be able to deal with factors that lead to a lack of health by ourselves.

Michael Richardson
Michael Richardson
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

The huge improvement in health over the last 150 years or so has mostly come from general public health improvements. I guess you could say that is driven by science; discovery of electricity for example, but I suspect that is not what you mean. Just as an example, in the UK between 1900 and 1968 the measles mortality rate fell by better than 99%, *before* the single measles vaccine was introduced.