Anti-vaxxer school protests a matter for police, says education secretary

‘Anti-vaxx protesters should not be going anywhere near a school, or a pupil, or a parent or a teacher,’ Nadhim Zahawi says

Zoe Tidman
Monday 22 November 2021 16:45
Education secretary says anti-vaxx protests outside schools will not be 'tolerated'

Anti-vaccine protests outside school gates should be matters for the police, the education secretary has said.

Nadhim Zahawi called these demonstrations against the Covid jab – which have taken place across the country since the rollout to children – “abhorrent” and “will not be tolerated”.

“Anti-vaxx protesters should not be going anywhere near a school, or a pupil, or a parent or a teacher. And if they do, the police will – and can – take action against them,” he told LBC.

He also implied he was not keen to introduce exclusion zones, which have been suggested as a way to prevent anti-vax protests at schools in the past.

Last month, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said exclusion zones were an option to prevent “idiot” anti-vaxxers from spreading “vicious lies” to children.

When asked whether he was ready to impose these zones outside schools on Monday, Mr Zahawi said around 5,000 schools were delivering Covid vaccines to children and claimed the incidents in question were “very few”. “The thing to do is not to play their game,” he said.

“I would rather have the police deal with it,” the education secretary added.

According to local media, anti-vaxx protests have taken place outside or near schools across the country since the start of this term, including in Leeds, London, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Liverpool and Stockport.

Last month, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said that 79 per cent of schools surveyed had been targeted by anti-vaxxers.

As well as protests, anti-vaxxers have handed out legal threats over the rollout of the Covid jab to children aged 12 and over.

Headteachers have also been sent fake NHS “consent checklists” and told to distribute these to parents, in what one school leader told The Independent was a “very convincing hoax”.

Videos on anti-vaxx Telegram groups have shown people approaching students in uniform to spread misinformation about the vaccine and hand out leaflets.

On Monday, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said anti-vaccine protests outside of schools were “utterly abhorrent”.

“It’s irresponsible, it’s dangerous and it costs lives,” they said. “We have public spaces protection orders in place, which local authorities can use if a protest is persistent or unreasonable or harming the quality of life of those in the local area. And the police of course have the government’s full backing to use their powers to deal with these protests.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “NAHT are clear that young people should be able to go to and from school without having to worry about protestors interrupting their day.

“Of course people have the right to protest, but we need to remember that these are children and it is not appropriate for protestors to approach them outside of school or make them feel intimidated.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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