The last two and a half years have seen unprecedented harms inflicted on our young people by government policies. Since it is clear from the evidence that the policies have been harmful, it would be usual in public and business life that those responsible for evident harms would be held accountable for them; but this has clearly not happened.
My first article for UK Column asked why we are vaccinating children against Covid. In this four-part series, I will attempt to present the huge harms suffered by our children, identify the policy failures, and ask the question: is anyone accountable?
Educational and developmental damage is potentially life-changing and not restricted to the academic domain, but as an educationalist, that is where I will begin my review of the harms inflicted.
In this opening article of the series, I address the appalling damage to children caused by school closures, mask-wearing and lockdowns. That damage is set out in detail here, here and here, and globally here; I shall summarise them below and highlight that there was sufficient evidence to indicate that the inevitable harms ultimately suffered were well foreseeable by decision-makers.
A recent Ofsted report highlighted the damaging effects of the Covid restrictions on the development and learning of young English children. The report highlights a huge range of damaging impacts, including:
- delays in babies’ physical development
- a generation of babies struggling to crawl and communicate
- babies suffering delays in learning to walk
- toddlers struggling to make friends, with developing their speech and language, and with toileting independently
- regression in children’s independence
The report also highlights the ongoing negative impact of face masks on young children’s language and communication skills, noting that those now turning two years old will have been surrounded their whole lives by adults wearing masks and have therefore been unable to see lip movements or mouth shapes on a regular basis.
Such learning and developmental issues drag on as children get older. National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) research published in March—again, covering England—reported that the negative impact of Covid lockdowns upon reading progress was greatest among Key Stage 1 pupils (the early years of schooling), and particularly those in Year 1 of primary school (those aged five to six). The write-up states that the impact of lockdowns on the development of literacy skills at an early age is of “particular concern”, as “early reading plays a key part in children’s later achievement”.
It suggests that pupils in year groups 1 and 2 “are at risk of future educational underachievement”.
The observations of Ruth Sedgewick, the head of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) in Northern Ireland, back up these findings.
A growing number of young children in Northern Ireland are experiencing significant communication problems following the Covid–19 lockdowns. We’re seeing children who can’t talk at all: they grunt or they point at things they want. They don’t know how to speak to the other children and if they want a toy, they will push the other child out of the way or snatch a toy from them.
Yet it is not even surprising that a large proportion of young children are struggling with communication. During lockdown, very young children were essentially cut off from the world; they missed out on all of the very important experiences which we know help them to develop their communication and language skills. In a UK Column interview in April 2021, a child psychotherapist warned of just these ills arising from lockdown.
The HART Group reports an almost 20-point drop in what is understood to be roughly equivalent to IQ, achieved in just two years, for children aged between three months and three years. Children of this foundational age learn things that they cannot learn later, such as early language recognition, which is aided by watching and interacting with people showing their full faces (not hidden behind a mask).
SAT (standardised attainment test) results are one of the UK’s more reliable indicators of how a schooling cohort is doing. The results published this year reveal that the damage is continuous The proportion of eleven-year-olds hitting the expected attainment standards in reading, writing and mathematics in England had slumped to 59%—barely half the age group—in 2022.
Data taken from 6,000 primary schools and nearly 1.5 million pupils found a steep drop in the proportion of those who were reading, writing and doing maths to the level expected at the end of last summer.
“Despite the superhuman efforts of school leaders, teachers and families to keep children learning, many pupils are no longer performing as they should be for their age,” concluded the report by Juniper Education, based on the data.
In May, research published by the Education Endowment Foundation claimed that lockdown had affected England’s youngest children worst of all. Four-year-olds and five-year-olds were starting school developmentally far behind: biting and hitting their peers, overwhelmed around large groups of other children, and unable to settle and learn.
This timeline of harm is succinctly summarised by Vivian Hill, a professor of educational psychology and a member of the British Psychological Society’s Covid working group, which has been looking at the mental effects of isolation and confinement.
As she puts it:
Pre-school education is key in the development of a child’s social skills. Children learn to negotiate: to play, share, and understand language and numbers. We are now looking at something called ‘zones of regulation’—teaching pre-schoolers to manage their emotions, rather than biting or thumping one another.
Moreover, “the new intake at primary school will have the social and educational skills of a child two years younger [than their actual age], while the 5–12 age group has been particularly anxious about Covid and the health of family members,” says Dr Jon Goldin, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
He adds that the next age group up, twelve- to fifteen-year-olds, “may start to suffer from depression and self-harm.” Dr Goldin adds that “mental health professionals have particularly been concerned about the rise in eating disorders, partially related to the stress of being stuck at home.”
Eating disorders are linked to anxiety and a lack of structure—and the chaos of the last two and a half years has exacerbated these illnesses, partially related to the stress of being stuck at home.
According to Dr Goldin, eating disorders—which have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders—tend to present in the teenage years. But during the pandemic, he has also seen them increase in younger children: in rare cases, in those as young as nine or ten.
And at the upper end of the schooling age range, “16–19-year-olds have missed out on age-appropriate education,” says Professor Hill.
Dr Goldin explains what is the matter with older teenagers: “This group exhibits the greatest worry about the future.”
So education standards are plummeting, the exam system uncertain, and child depression and self-harm at frightening levels. All the while, young people’s education and life chances are being destroyed; abuse is through the roof; their mental health in ruins.
The teetering of education systems around the world on the brink of collapse due to lockdowns is estimated to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children: 228,000 in South Asia alone, according to a UNICEF report.
Moreover, non-Covid vaccination programmes against fatal diseases have been put on hold. A second UNICEF report found that 150 million additional children will grow up in poverty due to lockdowns. Millions of girls are being driven into child marriage, and over 80 million children are missing routine childhood vaccination for diseases that actually could kill them. The World Health Organisation reports that over 60,000 additional children died (excess mortality) from malaria in 2020 alone.
The grimness is not absent from the First World, either. All those once-in-a-lifetime occasions have been lost for ever: the first day at school, whether it is at P1 or at high school; the last day at primary school; the last ever day at school; the leaving occasions; the high points of the academic year—the big drama production, speech day, prizegiving, playing a sport for the school’s top team, educational visits. Extracurricular enrichment—clubs, societies, choir, orchestra—all cast aside.
Why were our children not allowed to play outdoor sport? A group of healthy young people running about outside poses no threat at all, there being no evidence of Covid transmission out of doors.
My great concern is the potential damage to life chances. When pupils fail to pass a particular threshold in exam grades, it closes off opportunity.
Younger children are damaged if they have missed out on the acquisition of key building blocks of teaching, meaning they are less likely to make progress.
The damage to reading skills is, for many, irreversible. For a child that was already struggling to read, the time lost was absolutely critical and many will never achieve functional literacy, with all that that means.
Education needs continuity; it can’t be taught in the type of fits-and-starts régimes (blended learning) we have experiencing this decade. Moreover, it is inevitably sequential; how can you understand step 4 if you have missed steps 1 and 2?
How is the absence of practical experience going to be made up—whether you are a training doctor, dentist or teacher, or an engineer or a bridge builder, or an apprentice electrician or plumber or hairdresser?
Education requires an atmosphere conducive to learning. Learning cannot take place in an atmosphere of fear and anxiety, or where the child is unable to learn due to oxygen deprivation.
Teaching and learning require unimpeded visual and oral communication. Good teaching involves a variety of strategies, which take into account the different learning styles of pupils. It involves interactivity, group work, teamwork, discussion and detailed complex explanations. Imagine a question-and-answer session, a drama lesson, a language lesson, a poetry reading, a role-play session, or a singing lesson with face masks.
Shut away in their bedrooms, isolated from friends, told they were a danger to others and a granny-killer—whoever thought this was acceptable treatment of children and teenagers? No wonder their mental health has suffered.
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) this month included the recommendation in its 2022 Periodicity Schedule “to screen for depression and suicide risk” annually in children starting at birth and up to 21 years. What a headline.
And another: Experts declare “national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health”.
In the UK, there are an astonishing one million children waiting for mental health support. More than 400,000 British children and young people a month are being treated for mental health problems—the highest number on record —prompting warnings of an unprecedented crisis in the wellbeing of under-18s.
School counselling services were already overwhelmed prior to the pandemic, with many schools seeing a worrying rise in children struggling with mental health issues. Behavioural issues, depression, aggression, disruption all affect learning and present great challenges for teachers and parents.
The HART Group’s detailed research reported:
One in six children were reporting significant mental health problems and, by winter, one in four young people felt ‘unable to cope’. In autumn 2020, Ofsted (the schools inspectorate in England) identified a worrying increase in self-harm and eating disorders, while lockdowns evoked an ‘explosion’ of children with disabling tic disorders. This surge in mental health problems led to record numbers of children being prescribed antidepressants.
The cumulative mental health consequences of 18 months of pandemic restrictions was summarised in a recent comprehensive review of the research evidence, carried out by Collateral Global, which concluded that the impact on children and adolescents was ‘severe’, with 80% of young people reporting a deterioration in their emotional wellbeing.
In an open letter penned during the second lockdown in January 2021, ten of the UK’s top experts in child health warned that anxiety, depression, self harm and suicidal thoughts were reaching frightening levels among children as they struggled to cope with closures of their schools—which for most pupils persisted longer in the UK than in any other European country.
The letter, signed by Professor Claire Hogg, Dr Ian Balfour Lynn, Professor Sejal Saglani and others, added:
As in the first lockdown, we are witnessing an acute and rapid increase in mental health and safeguarding cases affecting children and parents alike.
It has been reported that five times as many children and young people committed suicide than died of Covid–19 during the first year of the pandemic in the UK. Lockdowns are more detrimental to children’s health than the virus itself.
UsForThem campaign founders Liz Cole, 48, and Molly Kingsley, 43, each have two children. They set up their campaign just two months into the first Covid lockdown to call attention to children’s suffering in it. Their book The Children’s Inquiry: How the state and society failed the young during the Covid–19 pandemic sets out their position as of 2022:
From a child welfare point of view, our pandemic response was a national disaster [...] We have spent two years watching as four happy children by turns became sad, angry, demotivated, confused, had rites of passage and life opportunities taken away from them and friendships curtailed.
It is hard to find fault with Cole and Kingsley here. Who was looking after the health and wellbeing of our youngest? All the things which would have protected their mental health—sport, church, travel, school, a social life, clubs, organisations—were denied them. An agenda of fear was imposed on them: they were surrounded by fear, haunted by signs even at the park, prevented from seeing friends and going places, being shouted at to wear masks to go to school or board the bus.
If we had put the children first, children wouldn’t have been masked, because they are not at risk from Covid. Even worse, we placed the terrifying burden of “don’t kill granny” on our children. Do we imagine that the ongoing fear propaganda will have no lasting effect on our young people?
I was recently passing a lady with a three-year-old child. The child grabbed her mummy’s leg and hid behind her. Her mother said to me, “She won’t meet anybody.”
An atmosphere of fear prevails: no jab—no job, no jab—no school, no jab—no church, no jab—no healthcare, no jab—no life. The intentionally hard-hitting emotional messaging has trickled down to toddlers, as if this could not reasonably have been foreseen.
And what does the scientific literature say about the psychological effects of mask-wearing?
Dr Raj Persaud, a consultant psychiatrist known to many in Britain from his media appearances, explains the source of the fear of masks: the brain fills in the gaps in what we know about others, and so the brain cannot but speculate as to what the mask is hiding. He says:
In a pandemic the face mask looks like it might be concealing a dangerous infection [...] Filling in the gaps in what you know about others, but doing so under background conditions where the brain projects threat onto the outside world, is now linked to serious mental illness.
Mask-wearing is also the cause of significant, life-altering medical conditions, as this research reports. The article identifies physiological changes that occur in multiple organs and systems, including the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and immune system.
Mask-wearing causes psychological damage: it impresses upon children that other humans are a danger to them, at a delicate developmental time when they should be learning the basis of trust and to build social relationships that will set them up for a healthful and happy future. Particularly concerning is that facial coverings inculcate the guilt in children that they themselves are a danger to others.
In addition, masks significantly reduce a child’s (or adult’s) ability to recognise someone and to navigate complex social and emotional cues—and, because children are still in a delicate development phase of their growth, masks are a direct threat to their health and wellbeing.
The message projected by masks is clear: You are a danger to me, and I am a danger to everyone.
Dr Margareta Griesz-Brisson, Director of the London Neurology and Pain Clinic, is one of Europe’s leading neurologists. She states:
To deprive a child’s or an adolescent’s brain [of] oxygen, or to restrict it in any way, is not only dangerous to their health, it is absolutely criminal. Oxygen deficiency inhibits the development of the brain, and the damage that has taken place cannot be reversed.
She refers to the acute warning symptoms of hypoxia, including headaches, drowsiness and a reduction in cognitive function.
“Masking children is tragic, unscientific and damaging,” according to Dr Paul Alexander of McMaster University, Canada. “There is tremendous psychological damage to infants and children, with potential catastrophic impacts on the cognitive development of children.”
A widely-known experiment of the “still-face effect” reveals that children become emotionally distressed when they are unable to see and reciprocate facial expressions. According to these findings, having children spend time around people whose facial expressions are masked could have potentially disastrous consequences for their social and emotional development.
Masks actually make us sick—and no wonder. A recently-published Japanese study looked at bacterial and fungal growth on face masks worn during the pandemic found that 99 per cent of the masks examined contained bacterial colonies on the inside and 94 per cent on the outside. The type of mask worn—cloth or disposable—made no difference to the spread of bacteria. On the other hand, fungus was found on the outside of 95 per cent of masks and on the inside of 79 per cent of them.
A review by Covid data analyst organisation PANDA confirms these adverse effects, including headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and psychological impacts.
The World Council for Health sums up the totality of the damage caused by masks here.
In a country-wide study in Germany, children reported the following harms of mask-wearing:
- 60% reported irritability
- 53% reported headaches
- 50% reported difficulty concentrating
- 29% reported less happiness
- 44% reported reluctance to go to school
- 42% reported malaise
- 38% reported impaired learning
- 37% reported drowsiness or fatigue
And now children are being coerced into being vaccinated for Covid, despite the risks.
Dr Tess Lawrie of the World Council for Health reminds us that the original justification for vaccinating children was to enable them to stay at school, but “children are missing more days at school because of adverse reactions to the vaccine than from Covid”.
And young males are more likely to report heart damage following Covid–19 vaccination, according to researchers who reviewed the scientific literature and vaccine injury databases in the UK, EU and US.
VAERS, the US Government’s vaccine adverse effect recording system, released data recently showing 1,341,608 reports of adverse events from all age groups following Covid–19 vaccines, including 29,460 deaths and 243,466 serious injuries between 14 December 2020 and 8 July 2022, with 20% related to cardiac disorders.
The VAERS system also shows children aged from birth to 18 who have been injected with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have had severe life-threatening adverse reactions, such as myocarditis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, seizures and more severe adverse reactions, or death.
- Myocarditis: 2.2 cases per million
- Seizures: 7.6 cases per million
In the Pfizer Covid vaccine trial, zero unvaccinated adolescents suffered a severe case of Covid, whereas one in nine adolescents aged 12 to 15 suffered severe systemic reactions within seven days of receiving the second jab.
In Sweden, males aged 10–19 years were found to be the most disadvantaged by Covid jabs, experiencing a 14.1 times higher incidence of serious side effects of Covid vaccination than of hospitalisation with Covid–19. Risks of vaccination exceed the potential benefits in the majority of population groups, and vaccination only appeared to be beneficial in men aged over 90 years. Risk outweighed benefit for men younger than 40 and women younger than 70.
The research findings from Iceland are salutary: eleven children reported serious injury from the vaccines, as compared with zero serious cases of Covid.
And for a world perspective, for the first time in the 21st century, the number of unimmunised children worldwide has risen sharply for the second year in a row, according to a UN report:
This is a red alert for child health. We are witnessing the largest sustained drop in childhood immunisation in a generation. The consequences will be measured in lives.Catherine Russell, executive director of UNICEF
We have seen that the measures directed at children to halt the spread of Covid–19 caused children huge harms in every domain of life—educationally, developmentally, spiritually, psychologically and physically.
Before introducing the most draconian whole-population laws in history, governments incontrovertibly had a duty to establish that they were necessary and that the policies indisputably worked.
In Part 2, I shall address the issue of whether the Covid policies directed at children were necessary, and ask: did these policies work, and were they fit for purpose?