If children under the age of 16 need parental consent to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, then what are “anti-vax” activists doing outside schools in the United Kingdom, handing out leaflets and trying to present the other side of the story?
It’s a good question, and there are several answers to it, some of which may even contain an element of truth.
- They are simply “idiots … spreading vicious lies … [and] doing so much damage.” This answer was provided by the UK Health Secretary, Sajid Javid.
- “Those gathering outside schools think it’s wrong to vaccinate children, while some hold wilder unfounded beliefs – such as that the whole pandemic is a hoax.” This answer was provided by the BBC’s Reality Check Health Disinformation Reporter (I kid you not; such a role truly exists, funded, presumably, by UK taxpayers).
- Concerned, informed citizens want to do what they can to ensure that other citizens are informed (and then become concerned). After all, informed consent is supposedly a prerequisite for a vaccination campaign.
With Britain now “ramping up” vaccinations for the 12-to-15-year-old age group, in the Health Secretary’s words, those protesting are apparently also “ramping up” their activities. According to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), 79 percent of the schools they surveyed had been targeted by anti-vaxxers in some way. Most of the “harassment” they describe was via emails allegedly threatening legal action, but they also claim that teaching staff have been threatened with physical harm on occasion. 13 percent of the schools surveyed said that protests have been held right outside their gates; some schools even reported that protesters entered the premises, and other schools urged their staff to “check they are not being followed” on their way home.
What did these protesters actually do when they encountered staff and students?
“We had some youngsters who were really upset about the leaflets that were being given out,” one headteacher told the PA news agency. “The leafleteers were blocking students’ way and insisting that they took a leaflet and some of them didn’t want to.”
Of course, these weren’t just any old leaflets. They were leaflets that left pupils feeling “upset” and “intimidated,” reports the Evening Standard.
A mother of a student in another school 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.”
It was probably quite a wild guess. Over 70 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds in the UK have already had their first vaccine shot and the figures for the 12-15 age group are heading that way too, after a slightly shaky start when the UK’s vaccine advisory body refused to give the green light to vaccinating healthy 12-15-year-olds, arguing that children were at such a low risk from coronavirus that vaccination would offer only a marginal benefit.
Luckily for the UK government (or whoever), Britain is blessed not only with a vaccine advisory body but also with Chief Medical Officers – four of them, in fact. The government granted the CMOs the final say on vaccinating children, and lo and behold, the CMOs decided in favor of going ahead, with just one dose of the vaccine at this point in time.
Now, why would they do that? Could it be connected with what the BBC describes as their being told to “consider the wider impact on schools and society”? Apparently so, as they did indeed take into account “evidence on the mental health and long-term prospects for young people and the effect on education, combined with the marginal benefit to health.”
Although the authorities went out of their way to present some kind of vague medical threat looming over the heads of children infected with COVID, at the end of the day, they were still found admitting that the health benefit is “marginal” – quite astonishingly. (That’s not to say that they won’t double back at some point and warn of dire health consequences if children aren’t vaccinated, as some professors and doctors are already doing, both in the UK and elsewhere, to be treated in another article.)
“Very few healthy children and young people with COVID-19 infection go on to have severe disease, vaccinating children should help to reduce the need for children to have time off school and to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19 within schools” (emphasis added).
In other words, COVID isn’t dangerous for children, and in theory, virtually all of them can get it and remain quite safe and happy. However, the government has decided that regardless of the minimal danger of COVID, it’s still better to reduce its spread, and therefore, any child who tests positive will be sent home into quarantine (where he’ll be perhaps safer, but certainly not happy).
And, because it’s a really bad idea to miss school, just get that shot and you won’t have to.
Well, if UK schools are producing such geniuses of logic and critical thinking, then it really is a shame for the next generation to be losing out on education.
And how much are they losing out? Just to get an idea: In mid-October, around 3 percent of all UK school-age children were at home in quarantine, which translates to around 250,000 students. Any student testing positive for COVID must self-isolate at home for 10 days; fortunately, their families and classmates are not automatically required to quarantine too, unless they also test positive.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, has stressed that the vaccine will be “offered” to children and not forced on anyone. Of course, it only makes sense to talk about an “offer” if the risk/benefit analysis is known, and here that actually appears to be the case. Government figures are quoted in many media sources – a first dose is said to prevent 87 COVID-related hospital admissions per million children, but comes with a risk of 3 to 17 cases of vaccine-induced myocarditis. A second dose prevents a further six hospitalizations per million but risks an additional 12 to 34 cases of myocarditis.
Furthermore, just 75 UK children have died of COVID-related complications since the outbreak of the epidemic early in 2020, and around three-quarters of them were already seriously ill prior to coronavirus infection. As the CMOs noted, children are at very low risk for a bad outcome following COVID infection. So why are so many getting that shot? Could it really be that children are so desperate to avoid running the risk of being quarantined – possibly repeatedly – that they’re flocking to vaccination clinics?
But they aren’t flocking to vaccination clinics, and that’s the whole point here. If children won’t come to the clinics, then the clinics come to the children. To their schools, that is. And although parental consent is “sought,” in the words of the authorities, in practice, it’s not so simple.
This is something that parents and other concerned individuals started figuring out earlier this year, leading to indignant denials from all and sundry. Reuters even made the question a topic in its “Fact Check” in July: “Fact Check – Britain has not changed the law of consent relating to children and vaccination.” Technically, that’s not a lie – but read on.
“For a child to be vaccinated, someone with parental responsibility such as a parent or guardian, or a local authority of someone subject to a care order, or the child themselves need to give consent,” Reuters wrote, citing Lucinda Ferguson, associate professor of family law at the University of Oxford.
Ferguson stressed that, “If everyone with parental responsibility (typically both parents) refuses to consent [to vaccination], the child is not capable of consenting, and is not subject to a care order, the vaccination cannot be administered to the child.”
The loophole hiding in plain sight is what Ferguson describes as being “capable of consenting” which is referred to in legal terms as being Gillick competent. “Gillick competence refers to children who are judged to have sufficient understanding and intelligence to be able to fully understand – and therefore consent to – medical treatment or vaccination,” Reuters notes.
Although an explanatory article in the BBC insists that it is “very rare” for children under the age of 16 to be assessed as Gillick competent, the government itself in its guidelines for vaccination of children notes that, “Young people who understand fully what is involved in a proposed procedure, such as vaccination, can legally give consent. This is known as ‘Gillick competence.’”
Furthermore, “If no consent from a parent has been received, but the child wants to be vaccinated and is judged to be Gillick competent by the healthcare professional, the child can still be vaccinated. In this case, the healthcare professional will make every effort to contact a parent to check before they proceed.
“If a parent objects to their child being vaccinated but the child wants to be vaccinated and is judged to be Gillick competent, the healthcare professional will try to reach agreement between the parent and child. However, the parent cannot overrule the decision of a Gillick competent child” (emphasis added).
This is why “the information leaflet is addressed to the child (as the recipient of the vaccine),” and the child is merely “encourage[d] to discuss the decision about the vaccine with their parents” (emphasis added).
The government guidelines stress that schools are not responsible for assessing Gillick competence – that is the task of “registered nurses … who have extensive experience and the expertise to handle these issues.” Many school administrations still panicked, however, upon reading the guidelines, expecting to bear the brunt of parents’ fear and anger at having their children subjected to intense pressure from peers, medical authorities, and teaching staff, to consent to a procedure that they were powerless to prevent.
And so the protests began.
And so the government responded – so far, just with threats – threats of exclusion zones around schools, to be implemented for a six-month period (until the vaccination program is over); threats of bringing in the police with the “powers and resources they need” to deal with the issue.
Will the police be needed, or will the protests subside? Will children demand their “right” to be vaccinated so that they can get an education and live a normal life? Or will they realize that this has nothing to do with rights, and that normalcy is a thing of the past?
En español aquí