Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

New Rapid Ethics Review from the UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator investigates the question of whether or not children should be offered vaccination against COVID-19, a question which has raised significant ethical challenges.

Syringe with COVID-19 vaccine label held in gloved hand

Dr Alex McKeown from the Neuroscience, Ethics and Society (NEUROSEC) group in the Department of Psychiatry and Deputy Director of the UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator, a collaborative of four major UK universities and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, has co-authored a Rapid Ethics Review with fellow Ethics Accelerator researcher Jonathan Pugh from the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.

Now that the vaccination for children policy has been implemented, the Review looks retrospectively at the ethical challenges:

  • Taking into account best interests
  • Capacity to consent
  • Vaccine mandates
  • Data governance issues.

Whether children should be vaccinated against COVID-19 turns on a range of factors, including capacity, age, the balance between vaccine safety and COVID-related harm, and data security. As is the case with adults, there is a need to ensure an ethical balance between individual freedom, public health, and vaccine safety; as such, questions about whether vaccination should be a condition of certain kinds of activity – for example, school attendance - are of particular ethical significance in children. Given the widespread need for collection of personal information to help control the pandemic, there are notable uncertainties about current and future data security, sharing, and reuse, which also affects the balance of ethical benefits and risks in vaccinating children.

These questions are particularly challenging because the term 'child' covers an age range where capacity is developing and can vary extensively from one individual to another. In particular, it overlaps with adolescence, so while all individuals under age 18 may be regarded in law as children, the inability to give informed consent cannot be inferred from this fact alone. The Review outlines some of the key ethical and legal considerations at stake in questions about informed consent for childhood vaccination in the context of COVID-19.

The collaborative’s Principal Investigator, Ilina Singh, Professor of Neuroscience & Society in the Department of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics & Humanities at the University of Oxford, said:


'The issue of vaccination of school-age children for COVID-19 will continue to come up as a key ethical and policy challenge. In the short term, we should assess capacity to consent in young people. However, in the long term we need a review of UK standards for consent in this population, based more thoroughly in evidence of developing consent capacities across age groups. It's important that the values and preferences of young people are taken into account when making these policy decisions.'

Alex McKeown, said:

'This review is an example of how the collaborative approach of the Ethics Accelerator, both across Oxford and with partner institutions, can make a vital contribution to public discussion of and engagement with the numerous ethical challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.'

Read the full Rapid Ethics Review.

For more information about the UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator.


Please follow the link below to read the news on the NIHR BRC website.

Similar stories

New Study Shows Simvastatin Can Change the Way People Experience Certain Emotions

This new study examines the effects of simvastatin on emotional processing, reward learning, verbal memory, and inflammation.

Oxford researchers part of major UK initiative to understand chronic pain

Oxford pain researchers are playing a major role in a new multi-million pound research programme launched by a consortium of funders, including UKRI, Versus Arthritis, Eli Lilly and the Medical Research Foundation.

Anxiety Disorders Among Children, Assessment and Working with Families

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders among children, yet there is limited guidance on the process of assessing child anxiety disorders and sharing diagnostic outcomes with families.

Landmark New Clinical Trial Shows Benefits of Automated Virtual Reality (VR) Treatment for Severe Psychological Problems

The gameChange automated VR program is designed to treat agoraphobia in patients with psychosis. In the largest ever clinical trial of virtual reality for mental health, gameChange especially helped people whose anxiety had previously left them virtually housebound.

UK-Japanese Collaboration Researches Mental Health Challenges Faced by Young People and their Families

Dr Simona Skripkauskaite, Departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, is the UK lead for one of the ten collaborative research projects jointly awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), to address the challenges presented by the global pandemic.

Department of Psychiatry Recognition Awards

Today we announce the prize winners of the first Department of Psychiatry Recognition Awards. One award is designed to offer early career researchers (ECRs) the opportunity to showcase their work, motivations and aspirations for research into mental health. Alongside this we launch the 'Good Citizen' award, where all department members have been able to make nominations.