Pupils are left feeling ‘upset’ and ‘intimidated’ by group of anti-vaxxers who blocked school gates – and now only a quarter of those eligible have had vaccine
- Pupils ‘upset’ and ‘intimidated’ by anti-vaxxers blocking the school gate
- Secondary school in Liverpool called police when protesters blocked the path
- No reinforcements turned up despite the protest getting ‘unpleasant’
- The anti-vaxx campaign has made some children hesitant to get Covid-19 jab
Secondary students have been left feeling ‘upset’ and ‘intimidated’ by a group of anti-vaxxers who blocked the school gates so they could not go home – and now only a quarter of those eligible have had their jab.
The students were handed leaflets by protesters in Liverpool earlier this month, and the schools headteacher has revealed the campaign has made some children hesitant to get the vaccine.
He said ‘less pupils than expected’ have come forward to have their Covid-19 jab and before the protest occurred they expected a ‘higher proportion’.
When the group of anti-vaxxers blocked the path of pupils who were trying to leave, the police were called but no reinforcements turned up despite the protest getting ‘quite feisty’ and ‘unpleasant’.
Molly Rowe, 15, (L) from St John Ogilvie High School in Hamilton receives her vaccines from Dentist Nollaig O Callaghan (R) at Fernhill community centre in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire
Demonstrators hold signs and banners as they march through London and protest against Covid-19 vaccinations for children
The headteacher told the PA news agency: ‘We had some youngsters who were really upset about the leaflets that were being given out.
‘The leafleteers were blocking students’ way and insisting that they took a leaflet and some of them didn’t want to.’
Only around a quarter of the eligible students came forward to have their Covid-19 vaccine at the school a few days after the anti-vaccination protesters targeted children at the school gates.
He said: ‘I would have expected a higher proportion.
‘I can’t directly attribute that to the leaflets, but the take-up has been slightly less than I would have expected.’
His comments come after the Health Secretary lashed out at ‘idiots’ who mount anti-vaccine protests outside schools as he said exclusion zones are an option to protect children.
Sajid Javid said children have been injured in clashes with protesters, who are spreading ‘vicious lies’.
Labour has called for councils to be able to use exclusion orders to prevent harassment of staff and pupils by anti-vaxxers outside schools.
But the head of the Liverpool school added: ‘If we’re going to have exclusion zones, they need to be enforced and sadly my experience has been that we haven’t had the police back-up when we wanted it.’
The school, which is running another vaccination day onsite due to low take-up, is paying extra staff to be on duty ‘in case anti-vaxxers turn up’, he said.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said it is ‘sickening’ that those against vaccinations are demonstrating at school gates.
Sajid Javid slammed anti-vax campaigners for ‘spreading vicious lies’ and described how the group of campaigners were ‘doing so much damage’
Labour’s Keir Starmer called for councils to be allowed to use exclusion orders to stop anti-vaccine activists from protesting outside schools
He said: ‘Labour believes the law around public spaces protection orders (PSPOs) urgently needs to be updated so that local authorities can rapidly create exclusion zones for anti-vax protests outside of schools.’
PSPOs can be used to disperse people from a public area and have previously been used to move on protesters outside abortion clinics, or to allow police to confiscate alcohol in certain spaces.
The mother of a child, whose school was also targeted by anti-vaccine protesters, believes some pupils may now be vaccine-hesitant as a result of the group’s demonstration.
Diane Sweeney said that her 15-year-old son, Euan Sweeney, heard the group of protesters ‘shouting using megaphones’ while ‘handing out leaflets to students’ at the school near Birmingham.
Ms Sweeney, 55, told PA: ‘The leaflets were, I’m told, biased and guided the reader to websites with inaccurate and disturbing information… I’m guessing there are now worried parents struggling to get their child to agree to be vaccinated because of this misinformation.’
The full-time mum and carer from Sutton Coldfield said that her son thought the protest was ‘stupid’ and ‘irresponsible’.
When asked whether anti-vaccination protests could be making young people more hesitant to get the Covid-19 jab, the Liverpool headteacher told PA: ‘I suspect that may be the case unfortunately yes.
‘There hasn’t been a big public health campaign that I’ve seen to encourage 12-15-year-olds or their parents to get vaccinated.
‘I guess there’ll be quite a few who are uncertain about things and for whom this could be a persuasive factor.’
Downing Street said it was ‘never acceptable for anyone to pressurise or intimidate pupils, teachers or the wider school community’.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘Protesters engaging in this type of behaviour should immediately stop.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel has made clear that police will have the ‘powers and resources they need’ to deal with the issue, the spokesman added.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) revealed earlier this month that most of the schools surveyed by the union (79%) have been targeted by anti-vaxxers.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said: ‘We would welcome any action which helps to keep anti-vaccination campaigners away from schools and which allows pupils and staff to go about their business without this intrusion.
‘Schools are operating under great pressure because of the disruption which continues to be caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
‘The last thing they need is the additional problem of protesters outside their gates.
‘Vaccinations are an important step in helping to reduce educational disruption and in keeping pupils in the classroom after 18 months of turbulence.
‘If protesters think otherwise there are plenty of outlets for them to express their views without resorting to targeting schools.’
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘Whatever your views on vaccination, it is never OK to make children feel scared and intimidated as they arrive at school.
‘People have the right to express their concerns but this must be done appropriately, schools are not the place for angry protests.
‘We would urge anti-vaccination campaigners to behave more responsibly and to carefully consider the impact their actions are having on children.’
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