Covid: Anti-vaxxers outside schools are ‘idiots spreading vicious lies’, says health secretary

251021 Anti-vaxx protesters, PA
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said anti-vax protesters spread 'vicious lies'. Credit: PA

The health secretary has slammed “idiots” who mount anti-Covid-19 vaccine protests outside schools as he said exclusion zones are an option to protect children.

Sajid Javid also said children have been injured in clashes with the anti-vaxxers, 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.

Mr Javid said those measures could be an option for dealing with the problem.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he'll do whatever it takes to ensure people are getting the treatments they need as quickly as possible. Credit: PA

Questioned on Sky News about protests in which three children were injured, the Cabinet minister said: “These people are doing so much damage.

“First of all, here you have three children that are injured, actually physically injured, and that’s heartbreaking to see – children going about what they should be doing, going to school every day, and you’ve got, frankly, these idiots outside their school spreading vicious lies.

“It is becoming a growing problem as time goes by.”

He said there are options for tackling the problem – “in terms of whether it’s an exclusion zone, or other potential action, I think it’s got to be done at a local level".

“If you’ve injured children, that is a criminal act and I hope in that case police are able to track those people down.”

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.

Councils should have the right to use exclusion orders to stop anti-vaxxers from protesting outside schools, Sir Keir Starmer says.

The Labour leader said it was “sickening” that those actively against Covid jabs were demonstrating at the school gates.

Emails threatening supposed legal action have been sent to many schools across the country, but the ASCL said in some cases staff had been threatened with physical harm and in some cases protesters have gained access to school sites.

Vaccinations have been carried out in schools across the country. Credit: PA

Sir Keir said: “It is sickening that anti-vax protesters are spreading dangerous misinformation to children in protests outside of schools.

“The uptake of vaccines among children is far too low and the government’s rollout is painfully slow.

"Everything must be done to get those eligible jabbed as quickly as possible in this public health emergency.

“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.”

Home secretary Priti Patel also waded in on the matter, saying it “is completely unacceptable for children, teachers or parents to be intimidated and harassed outside their schools.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

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.

But gaining permission to impose one takes time and significant consultation, and Labour is calling for an expedited process in cases of preventing harassment and intimidation of children outside schools if agreed to by the school, the leader of the local council, and the local police chief constable.

The party said the PSPO could be in place within five days, and could be in place for six months.

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.”

He added that jabs were key to keeping pupils in the classroom, and said: “If protesters think otherwise, there are plenty of outlets for them to express their views without resorting to targeting schools.”

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Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “No child should be made to feel scared or intimidated on their journey to and from school.

“Pupils have endured enough disruption to their education in recent months, so there is absolutely no place for angry protests outside school gates.”

The ASCL previously said that of the 526 responses from schools eligible for the Covid vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year-olds, 13% had reported seeing protesters immediately outside their school premises, and 20% reported protesters in the local area.

Some 18 schools said protesters had gained access and protested inside the school premises, and 20 said they had received communications threatening physical harm to staff.