Anti-vaxxers are ‘idiots spreading vicious lies’, says Health Secretary

·3 min read

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.

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

Watch: Government moving towards compulsory jabs for NHS staff

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.”

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.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it is “sickening” that those against vaccinations are demonstrating at school gates.

“It is sickening that anti-vax protesters are spreading dangerous misinformation to children in protests outside of 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.”

Sir Keir Starmer wears a black facemask
Sir Keir Starmer described anti-vax demonstrations outside schools as ‘sickening’ (Peter Byrne/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 remain in force for six months.

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 demonstrators 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.

Most of the harassment by anti-vaxxers reported to ASCL had been through emails threatening legal action, though the union said staff had been threatened with physical harm while some protesters had gained access to school sites.

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.”

He added: “We would urge anti-vaccination campaigners to behave more responsibly and to carefully consider the impact their actions are having on children.”

Watch: Chief Medical Officer says anti-vaxxers 'should be ashamed'

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