Artillery Row

Covid-segregated schooling

Un-masked children are already being kept apart from their masked peers

It is 2023.

In a classroom in South London, Emma, twelve, sits in a maths lesson.  The classroom is full — thirty children — but Emma sits alone on a desk separated from the others at the back of the room.  She is the only pupil in the class who has not had the Covid-19 vaccine.  She, unlike the other children, is wearing a mask.  Banned from coming within two metres of her teacher she communicates with him by way of written notes.  One note, scribbled in the top corner of Emma’s maths book, reads “Dear Mr Hannihan, I have not got very far with this question because I am finding it hard but I can’t come and ask you for help.”  Emma is not allowed to go on school trips; nor take part in the school sports day.  She eats lunch in a separate part of the school canteen with a small group of other unvaccinated children, annexed behind thick perspex sheets. The other children call Emma’s group names — the Gross Unvaxxed, the Dirties.

Though fictional, this is a vision of a dystopia the gateway to which is already upon us. It is why I believe we should feel a profound sense of relief at the news — leaked but not yet formally announced — that the JCVI plans to recommend against a mass roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine to children.

It increasingly feels like a coordinated societal drive towards mass childhood vaccination

I, like many thousands of parents, have watched with increasing horror as the British public have been groomed towards an expectation not only that children will be vaccinated, but that vaccination — either of the cohort in general or individual children — will be a precondition to keeping children in school.

Mark Drakeford, FM Wales, planted the first seed in January when he said “we might by the autumn be able to have young people returning to schools with a vaccine available to them and as a result some of the measures we currently have in schools, such as children wearing masks, might be able to be eased”.  Sage member John Edmunds echoed this in February — “there will continue to major disruption in schools until we have vaccinated our children”; Matt Hancock has recently said something similar and then jump to the Q&A in this Monday’s press conference and CMO Chris Whitty added his tuppence — “the wider question [in relation to vaccinating children] is around the effect on children’s education and the multiple disruptions that might happen”.

Statements such as this are really just the ministerial end of what has increasingly felt like a coordinated and escalating societal drive towards mass childhood vaccination — often from those who do not necessarily have children’s interests at heart. Think of the CBBC Newsround video, since hastily amended, where Professor Sridhar assured parents that the vaccines were “100 per cent safe”; of school leaders saying peer pressure will “encourage” children to accept the vaccine; and of factually misleading and emotionally manipulative teaching materials produced by teaching unions and vaccine manufacturers circulating in schools (“protect your classmates”, “it’s safe”, “you will be able to get the vaccine as soon as autumn — smiley face”, “what happens when [not if] I get vaccinated?”). 

There are so many reasons for concern. That these vaccines use novel technology and that there is inadequate long term safety data; that peer pressure is anathema to basic principles of good medical ethics and risks a damaging loss of trust in vaccination programmes more generally; and that saying to be able to enjoy the full benefit of school children must be vaccinated ignores the fact education is not, in fact, a benefit, it’s a right, and to deny children education on the ground that they individually or as a cohort have not been vaccinated would be yet another in a long line of disproportionate and damaging infringements of that right. Four hundred and fifty days of wrongs do not make a right.  Plus, it’s disingenuous — we all know that closing schools is a political choice rather than an inevitability.  Why would we assume a continuing base case of disruption at a stage when essentially all adults who want or need the vaccine will have been double vaccinated? 

Mass vaccination of children is yet another intervention suggested to protect adults at the expense of children

Mass vaccination of children would be yet another intervention coming on the back of a series of interventions which have been introduced at the expense of children to protect adults, and as the last year shows it has not always proved feasible to summon the genie back into the bottle in the context of a messy school system involving multiple layers of authority and bureaucracy.

After this last year’s experiment, with children treated as guinea pigs, we are already a long way down a road that would have been better left untrod — masks are back in many classrooms and we know of pupils exempt from wearing masks being asked to segregate and untested children being denied access to activities and school trips.  The example I have used above of a little girl writing a note to her teacher is based on a real note I’ve seen in the context of a pupil exempt from wearing a mask.

If there is one thing to be thankful for, it is that none of the measures we have yet introduced in school environments need be permanent.  But once jabbed, we cannot un-jab. It does not take much imagination to see the darkness of the place that leads.

At the time of writing the terms in which JCVI look likely to come out against mass vaccination of children are not clear.  One article in the Times states “The [JCVI] is now deciding how strongly to word their statement and whether to give ministers “wiggle room” to offer parents the choice.”  I sincerely hope that the JCVI come out in favour of a position which, whilst recognising and protecting the need for children with serious vulnerabilities to be given the Covid-19 vaccine, slams shut and padlocks the gates to vaccine-based segregation among our children.

This is no hell to unleash on children.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover