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HomeCOVID-19Stop ‘harmful’ mass testing of children now, demand MPs

Stop ‘harmful’ mass testing of children now, demand MPs

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THE cross-party Pandemic Response and Recovery All-Party Parliamentary Group of MPs met this week to hear whether there is a case for the continued mass testing of healthy children by schools and nurseries. 

There isn’t.

Their uncompromising conclusion was that the mass testing of healthy children is ‘harmful, invasive and unevidenced’.

The committee is co-chaired by Conservative MP Esther McVey and Labour MP Graham Stringer. The group examined the pros and cons of testing in schools, and growing concerns about the likely physical and mental health harms caused by constant testing.

Ms McVey told the group something few of the public outside parents are aware of, which is that children are still routinely being asked to take tests, even at primary school, regardless of whether they have symptoms. 

Though the threat of school closures has been lifted and the requirement for children to wear masks rescinded, shockingly hundreds of thousands of children are still missing schooling, she said, owing to constant testing and the government requirement for healthy children to isolate. 

She informed the group that the evidence presented by their experts found no benefits to mass testing and that the children are not drivers of transmission. They have been disrupted, harmed and distressed despite the absence of any robust randomised control trial evidence of the benefits of mass testing them: ‘The evidence we have heard is clear. Testing in schools must stop, especially in the absence of any sort of study on the impact it has on our children’s physical and mental health. Evidence sessions such as this one are so important, to allow us to get a full picture before we make a decision and put our case to the Government.’ 

Mr Stringer said: ‘We cannot continue to force such an invasive procedure and we have heard today of children as young as two being physically restrained by their parents, put in headlocks or vomiting after the tests. As I have said before, the evidence to impose these sorts of measures must be overwhelming and I’m not aware the evidence exists that testing healthy children is beneficial and will help stop the spread of SAR-CoV-2. Not to mention the eye-watering sums spent on testing which could have been so much better spent on redressing some of the damage already caused to child mental health. Surely the time has come to stop the mass testing of healthy children?’ 

The group heard from Dr Angela E Raffle, honorary senior lecturer, University of Bristol Medical School Department of Population Health Sciences, Dr Allyson Pollock, clinical professor of public health at the University of Newcastle, child and adolescent clinical psychologist Dr Zenobia Storah, Professor Ellen Townsend, professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham and Mark Ward, a parent who spoke about the traumatic experiences of testing his toddler. 

They all argued against the mass testing of healthy children in schools, highlighting the insufficient scientific and clinical evidence and arguing that, far from being of any public health benefit, mass testing causes significant damage to children. 

Dr Raffle said: ‘SARS-CoV-2 testing of healthy school children needs to stop. The World Health Organisation cautions against mass symptomless testing because of high costs, lack of evidence on impact, and risk of diverting resources from more important activities. There is no sound evidence that testing children leads to reduction in serious cases of Covid-19. The policy decision in England to introduce school testing appears to have been a political decision, to create the impression of safety, rather than investing in staffing and ventilation which would have made an impact. The tests being used have not been properly evaluated as self-tests or for use in children. Children are low transmitters compared with adults. The net effect of the school testing is harmful because of the trauma of repeated testing and the disruption to children’s lives through repeated exclusion and isolation. Testing is important when done under medical supervision in order to guide decisions about the best way to treat a child who is ill, but the indiscriminate use of tests in children who are well is unjustified.’ 

Professor Pollock said: ‘Many of the so-called public health measures applied over the last two years have been no more than blanket measures applied with no evidence but with serious consequences, such as mass testing healthy school children. The tests are inappropriate and in the UK we completely ignored the Wilson and Junger 1968 principles of screening. They are not tests of infectiousness so children were and are being isolated unnecessarily. We know from studies that infected children do not spread the virus to others readily, not other children, their families nor their teachers. Now with the milder Omicron variant, many of them will be asymptomatic, so constantly mass testing healthy children is not only a traumatic experience but an appalling waste of time and is something that should only be done if clinically necessary, such as if a child is ill enough to need medical attention.’ 

Dr Storah described mass testing of healthy children as ‘harmful, invasive and unevidenced’ and ‘nothing short of state-sponsored child abuse’. She said: ‘I have been working with young people throughout the last two years and have seen a steep rise in mental health conditions as a result of measures like testing. These obsessive infection control measures are causing worrying levels of highly anxious behaviour. They maintain and amplify the fear messaging, further exacerbated when children are surrounded by adults, their parents or teachers, also constantly testing. It is utterly extraordinary for a society to treat their young in such an abusive way, to throw decades of understanding about normal child development out of the window without having considered the risk factors. One in six young people now meets the diagnostic criteria for at least one mental health disorder but there is still time to lessen and even reverse the long-term psychological impact this is having on our children. Children and adolescents need to be prioritised and mass testing, like face coverings, must be consigned to the policy bin, once and for all. What is required immediately is a return to normality for all children and all school and extra-curricular environments.’

Professor of Psychology Ellen Townsend told the group: ‘It is unclear what mass testing healthy children is achieving from a Public Health perspective. No studies have been carried out to understand if there are any benefits and no evaluation has been done on the psychological impact of testing – this is a grave and unethical oversight. We must recognise that children are at minimal risk to others but the harms caused to children, the disruption of testing protocols in schools and the resulting absences, are completely disproportionate to the proclaimed benefits of indiscriminate mass testing. The president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health was quite correct when she said last year that testing in schools was causing unnecessary chaos.’ 

You can find  information about the APPG and its membership here and here.

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Edited by Kathy Gyngell

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