Pupils in Lancashire have taken the lead in dealing with anti-vaccine protests outside their school gates after one student was filmed snatching an anti-vaxx placard from the clutches of a demonstrator and running away with it.
A video circulating on social media showed anti-vaccine protesters outside Lytham St Annes High School on Thursday afternoon. Students could be seen taking a bright yellow sign from a protester, with one sprinting down the road with it.
Anti-vaxxers have targeted schools across the country with protests as the 12-15 year old vaccine rollout gets underway in England and Scotland.
i analysis shows there was a “call to action” for the Lancashire school protest on Thursday on a Telegram anti-vaxx school protest organising group.
The event was set for 2:30 to 3:30pm, just in time for students to be leaving to go home.
Other videos showed protesters accosting parents, leading to a man throwing another anti-vaxx sign into a puddle. i has chosen not to publish the video footage due to the age of the pupils filmed.
Lancashire Police said it attended the demonstration and spoke with the group.
A spokesperson told i: “No offences were disclosed with the group leaving the school around 3.20pm.”
But other schools in Bradford, Bracknell, Kent, Leeds, Hertfordshire and Dorset were also singled out for demonstrations that are being planned in anti-vaccine channels on the Telegram messenger app.
One protest group has a dozen Telegram channels dedicated to regional protests, while a national channel on the platform has more than 2,000 people in it.
Messages seen by i show hundreds of Telegram users being collectively encouraged to demonstrate outside school settings in the coming days and weeks.
Campaigners against misinformation said it was “deeply worrying” that protesters were planning to “harass” children, parents, staff and medical professionals.
Parental consent is not needed for the jab if a child is considered competent by a clinician, leading to anti-vaxxers resolving to dissuade young people from getting the vaccine.
An i investigation showed that anti-vaxxers had designed leaflets and posters to specifically target teenagers as 16-17 year-olds were offered the jab.
Anti-vaxxine protest group Outreach Worldwide has shared footage of its protesters approaching schools and students in uniform. In one video, a woman encourages students to delay getting the vaccine as it is “still in clinical trials and is causing quite a lot of problems for young people”.
This is a common misinformation claim that likely stems from conflating the “estimated study completion dates” on clinical trial websites to the actual end dates of clinical trials. The vaccine has been approved for use after rigorous testing.
Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), told i: “The medical ethics of vaccinating children against Covid-19 is a very important and very complex issue, and people have every right to express their opposition, but it is deeply worrying to see adults targeting protests at children’s schools to harass parents, staff and medical professionals.
“Law enforcement need to treat this as a threat to children’s safety, as well as public health.”
i has contacted Lytham St Annes High School and DfE for comment.