OUTSIDE SCHOOLS: Anti-vax protests branded ‘despicable’
John-Paul Stephenson, Labour councillor for Heaton ward in Newcastle, Image: John-Paul Stephenson
Anti-vaxxer protests outside North East schools have been branded “absolutely despicable”.
Newcastle councillor John-Paul Stephenson has slammed the campaigners who have targeted schools for demonstrations against the Covid vaccine since it started being rolled out to 12 to 15 year olds.
One incident last week saw a group of anti-vaxxers reportedly brandish pictures of dead children outside Saint Thomas More Catholic School in Blaydon.
Coun Stephenson, the city council’s cabinet member for public health, described the actions as “hideous” on Thursday, while also criticising vandals who defaced signs at the Freeman Hospital last month.
The Labour councillor told the local authority’s health scrutiny committee: “That a lot of the anti-vax protests have been directed at schools is hideous… Schools need to be a safe space for children and for children, and some of the graffiti and the harassment seen is absolutely despicable.
“Yes, we are in a country with free speech. But making children’s lives difficult is completely unacceptable regardless of your views.
“I know our education department do work with individual schools, so that if there are incidents the schools can be in touch with the police to investigate.
“It is not just at schools though, we have seen it at the Freeman too. Again, these are people who are trying to protect us and save lives – to be subjected to that kind of harassment… I just don’t know what planet they are on.”
Prof Eugene Milne, the city’s public health director, called the actions of anti-vax campaigners “incomprehensible”.
He also expressed hopes that young people would soon be able to access vaccines outside of schools, in order to avoid children being put off having the jab if they feel frightened or threatened by protesters.
Prof Milne said: “It is very troubling, it really is. One of the things we are quite anxious about following the publicity in the last few days is getting alternative provision for the 12 to 15s to get vaccines if there is pressure on their school, so they can go somewhere else. I understand that is coming.”
Prof Neil Watson, who runs the Covid Vaccination Programme in the North East, said earlier this week that the vaccination service for the youngest age group currently eligible for a jab could soon be expanded beyond schools – potentially allowing 12 to 15s to get a dose at other vaccination centres or pharmacies.
Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
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