Ms Cates, who represents Penistone and Stocksbridge, made the comments as she led a Westminster Hall debate on the vaccination of children against Covid-19. She was among several Conservative MPs to raise questions around the Government’s rollout of Covid-19 vaccines for children in England aged between 12 and 15 and said there was “no rush” to rollout the vaccine to the age group.
She said Government modelling showing vaccinating children could save 41 days of schooling per 1,000 children between October and March equated to a “negligible” benefit and a simpler way of stopping education disruption would be the end the mass testing of asymptomatic children. Government guidance issued for the autumn term has said secondary school students should have twice weekly tests, with the policy being reviewed at the end of September.
“This unevidenced and unethical policy is costing tens of millions of pounds a week and is continuing to disrupt education. Even the Chief Medical Officer acknowledges that a vaccination programme alone will not stop school closures,” said Ms Cates.
Later in the debate, she added that given Covid health risks are higher in overweight people, resources would be better diverted towards that issue.
“A study showed that countries where over 50 per cent of the adult population is overweight have experienced 10 times the death rate. A really effective way of reducing our risk in future would be to divert some of the money we are spending on testing asymptomatic people into drives against obesity and for exercise,” she said.
Ms Cates added: “Even now, as adults, we are able to move freely from home to work, to Parliament and to the pub with no restrictions, yet children are still subject to asymptomatic testing, and many are being forced to wear masks in school and are missing out on important opportunities.
“We cannot expect our children to face greater restrictions than we ourselves are willing to bear.
“As a mother, I have despaired as I have watched the impact of those restrictions on my children and others. The stories that I have heard from constituents, particularly the parents of disabled children and those with additional needs, are horrifying.”
In response to a direct question by Ms Cates about the testing issue, health minister Maggie Throup said: “It is important that we do whatever we can — use whatever we have in our toolbox — to make sure that children are able to continue with their education, and vaccination is one part of that. I know my Honourable Friend is passionate, as am I, about making sure that children get a full education, and that the pandemic does not affect their futures."
Ms Throup also backed the vaccine rollout for 12 to 15-year-olds.
“The unanimous recommendation of the UK’s CMOs is to offer all remaining 12 to 15-year-olds a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine with further JCVI guidance needed before any decision of a second dose.
“They have been clear that they are making this recommendation based on the benefits to children alone and not on the benefits to adults or wider society.
“At every point in our vaccination programme we have been guided by the best clinical advice.”
Government 'must catch up on child vaccinations'
Labour MP Liz Kendall said children have lost out on an average of 115 days of class learning and that a vaccination programme for children has proved a success in other countries.
She said: “France was one of the first to offer vaccines to children, back in June, and now 68 per cent of children aged 12 to 18 have received a single dose. In Italy, the figure is 62 per cent and in Spain 79 per cent. Israel, the United States, Canada, Sweden, Poland and Switzerland have also raced ahead.
"While our Government spent months delaying on this vital issue, countries across the world acted, and they are now streets ahead of us in protecting children, their education and the wider community. It is vital that we catch up.”
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