The chief medical officer for England, Chris Whitty, warned MPs today that if 12- to 15-year-olds are not vaccinated against Covid-19 the upper limit of time in school lost could be over 12 million days in the event of a "significant winter surge".
Asked about educational disruption caused by the pandemic, Mr Whitty told the Commons Education Select Committee: "The first thing to say with the disruption is if it was spread thinly and evenly across the whole country at all times it's a very different situation to if it's highly concentrated in particular areas or if it happens to children whose parents are unable to support them in home, or who have pre-existing, for example, mental conditions or stresses.
"There's no such thing as the average child," he added.
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Caroline Johnson, Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, pressed him on the issue, stating that with the removal of bubbles in schools and the removal of the need for isolation except for positive cases, the disruption in schools of the last 12 months "should not be seen again". She asked exactly how much education disruption there would be under current rules.
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"Obviously, the correct thing to compare this to is if Covid wasn't there at all and then the difference you'd actually get with vaccination," Mr Whitty said.
"We looked at this as best we can with very strong and powerful testimony from all around the country – all four nations of the UK, from all of our professional colleagues – and what they've all said is that in some areas the disruption has been repeated and if there's even small amounts more, the impact of that could be very substantial – in others, much less so. This is not an evening out kind of situation.
"We have had modelling done as part of this process and the range they came to was from the most benign situation, which I think is actually very improbable, of 110,000 days of schooling lost compared to if there's no vaccination, up to a higher end, which is not the absolute top of the range, of 12 million days of schooling lost if we would have a significant surge over winter.
"Now I do not know, you do not know, nobody knows what kind of surges we're going to have over time and how we will have to respond to them, but I think what this does do is it provides an insurance policy to reduce – not eliminate – but to reduce significantly the impact any significant surge would have."