Fact-checking Children’s Minister Vicky Ford’s claim that it is not reckless to reopen all UK schools in the same week because parents and teachers are now more protected against Covid-19 thanks to the rollout of the vaccination programme.
First published in March 2021.
BBC Breakfast host Louise Minchin asked this morning her opinion to Children’s Minister Vicky Ford on the National Education Union’s (NEU) view that so many pupils returning to school in the same week, which the journalist described as a “sort of Big Bang approach” was “reckless”.
The minister, who last year voted against directly funding free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021, responded: “Well, no. We’ve worked with worked really closely with the scientists who are the experts on Covid. We’ve looked at all the evidence. Everybody’s worked so hard to get the Covid levels low again. And then of, course, we’re doing this against a very different backdrop to what we had in January. We’re doing this with the vaccination programme. An amazing vaccination programme that now means 1 in 3 adults is vaccinated. It does give us all a bit more protection.”
Children’s Minister Vicky Ford. | BBC Breakfast
Let’s fact-check Vicky Ford’s claim that it is not reckless to reopen all schools at once because parents and teachers are now more protected against Covid-19 thanks to the rollout of the vaccination programme.
First, let’s break down the demographic of who has been vaccinated out of the 22 million first-dose vaccinations that have been undertaken so far:
Between January and Mid-February:
- Care home residents and care home workers
- People aged 80+ and frontline health and social care workers
- People aged 75-79
- People aged 70-74
- Clinically extremely vulnerable people
Since the end of February:
- People aged 65-69
- People aged 60-64
- People aged 55-59
- People aged 50-54
- People aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions
Considering that the average age of mothers at childbirth in England and Wales is about 30.6 years old (ONS data), it seems absolutely impossible that parents of either primary or secondary school children have received the jab so far unless they fit in one of the health categories above mentioned.
Therefore, the majority of parents are factually NOT protected against Covid-19 as schools reopen this week.
Considering that when they gave their final advice on the vaccination priority list to the government on 21 February, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) concluded that “teachers, police and other key workers should not get priority for Covid jabs but prisoners can be vaccinated en masse”, and considering both that over 84% of Britain’s teachers in primary schools are under 50, and over 76% of Britain’s teachers in secondary schools are under 50 (OECD data), it again seems nearly impossible to claim that, as schools reopen this week, teachers are being protected thanks to the vaccination programme how successful it might be.
Those claims are not only misleading but also dangerous. Teachers and parents are all still at risk of Covid infection as schools reopen.
Teachers, in particular, deserve extra protections to minimise the risk of transmission with mandatory measures that don’t currently exist in schools. Such as mandatory masks for all children in primary and secondary schools, rotas, social distancing in class and better ventilation.
It begs the question of whether there are various definitions of what schools are for. Do schools exist to look after children whilst their parents are out at work? Are they for children to play and socialise? Are they for children to learn and receive a good education? For this government and some lobbying libertarians (among which some parents too), it so often looks like schools are actually — and primarily — a child-care service, not really an educational one – which would explain their great impatience and sure eagerness to see children back in the classrooms as early as possible.
School ministers would be well-inspired, however, to get busy getting the right conditions to make schools safe for the people who spend most of their days there rather than make disingenuous claims on the telly in the morning only to serve their government, their party, and a minority of libertarian minions’ agenda.
Not out of the woods
Finally, and this should worry us all as the country prepares to reopen more and more activities in the next few weeks, the latest ONS survey shows that two in five over 80s have broken lockdown rules within three weeks of their first Covid vaccine dose. Indeed, 41% of over 80s who have received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine less than three weeks ago have admitted they had met someone other than a household member, care worker or member of their support bubble, indoors; against lockdown regulations.
“People who have had their first shot might think they are out of the woods with this outcome. Not so. The second dose is still important for boosting immunity, reducing hospitalisation risk even further and for the length of time for which you are protected. Furthermore, while there is increasing evidence of the vaccines reducing transmission, more research is needed.
“Although the virus may not make you ill after having the first vaccine shot, you might still be able to carry it around and pass it to other people through breathing and coughing, so it is imperative we all continue to wear masks and socially distance until the majority of the population is fully vaccinated.”
Boris Johnson visits the NHS Vaccination Centre in Stoke- on-Trent. | Flickr/Number 10
As Professor Calum Semple, Professor of child health at the University of Liverpool and a member of SAGE, told BBC Breakfast this morning, it is “inevitable that we will see a rise in cases” as we reopen schools, and people certainly need to be aware of potential transmission risks, even from the vaccinated population.
This is something that the government, the experts, and the media have the responsibility to remind everyone on a daily basis to avoid yet a new wave of infections, especially because of new variants that, with time, could evade our current vaccines.
“You have to steer a course between not appalling people, but at the same time not misleading them.” — David Attenborough
▫ J.N. PAQUET, Journalist & Author, Editor of PMP Magazine.
[This piece was originally published in [the brief] and re-published in PMP Magazine on 8 March 2021, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Geograph/David Smith. - Exeter lockdown rainbow, St Michael's School, Heavitree, Exeter. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)