Doctor says primary schools safer with mask wearing – and vaccines
A CLONBUR-based GP believes children between the ages of five and 12 need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to reduce the level of transmission of the virus.
Speaking exclusively to The Mayo News as part of our ongoing in-depth coverage and analysis of the Covid-19 pandemic in Mayo, Dr Joe Curran said that approving vaccinations for under 12s will help reduce case numbers.
Dr Curran’s comments come as under 12s accounted for a full 32 percent of those who presented for a PCR test at the MacHale Park testing centre last week, The Mayo News can reveal.
Even though children are at ‘extremely low risk’ of hospitalisation with or death from the disease, Dr Curran (who also operates a general practice in Ballinrobe) says vaccinations and mask wearing will make schools a safer environment.
Covid-19 vaccinations for under 12s have been approved by the European Medicines Agency. The matter is currently being reviewed by the National Immunisation Advisory Council (NIAC) expert group.
When asked whether the mask mandate for older primary-school students would prevent the spread of Covid-19 in schools, Dr Curran said: “The most effective way would’ve been to get the children immunised from the age of five up … that would’ve been the most appropriate way to control spread.”
‘Focus for infection’
Dr Curran, who serves the South Mayo and North Galway area, said that primary-school children were ‘a focus for infection’ as they are the largest unvaccinated cohort.
He added that he believes it will be ‘very difficult’ to get children to comply with mask wearing in school.
“With any age you’ll have a bit of rebelliousness … The only way to get a proper control on it is to get them all vaccinated. If the Government could come out and advise on that.*
“They [primary-school children] are a focus of infection and they are going to spread it,” he added.
“They do say that child-to-adult to spread isn’t as likely as children to children, but it will still keep the numbers high … and keep the rate of infection in the community higher. The more you can cut that the better for the overall infection rates.”
More boosters needed
DR Curran also called for the booster programme to be rolled out quicker in order to reduce case numbers and severe illness with Covid-19. Currantly, all over-16s are in line for a third dose of a Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine, with the different cohorts being vaccinated in stages, according to their age and risk profile.
“Certainly, the booster vaccine programme is going well. In general practice we’re down to 50 year olds. The more boosters we can get out there the better,” he said.
“You’re on a hiding to nothing without vaccination, in my opinion.”
Dr Curran said that three doses may be required for a full course of vaccination against Covid-19 in future, which would be similar to vaccination against hepatitis.
“The two vaccines weren’t enough to provide lasting [Covid] immunity,” he said. “Okay, you got 90 percent immunity a couple of weeks after your second jab, but within five or six months your immunity is gone down to 60 percent.
“I think they will find with the third jab, or booster jab, that it will complete the course and it will give greater and long-lasting protection … the numbers are so high because we haven’t got the booster out there quicker.”
He cited Israel as an example of a country that saw a rapid and dramatic decline in cases after a fast booster-programme rollout.
Dr Curran said that the spread of the more-infectious Omicron variant could be a sign that virus is ‘weakening and may fizzle out’. He pointed to the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed tens of millions of people before mutating into a less-harmful variant.
“It lasted for two years and then it disappeared. That’s the optimistic view. We certainly hope that that’s the case,” he said.
Blunt and aggressive
ELSEWHERE, the principal of a Ballina primary school has described the message in which schools were ordered to introduce mask wearing as ‘quite aggressive’ and ‘very blunt’.
Speaking to this newspaper, the principal of Breaffy National School in Ballina, Vincent Duffy, heavily criticised a letter sent by the Department of Education last Tuesday evening informing schools of the measure.
Mr Duffy, who is a member of the Irish National School Teachers Association’s Central Executive Council, said that the measure had put national school principals in ‘a very difficult situation’. He also rubbished Government and public-health officials’ claims that schools are a ‘safe environment’.
* Since this article went to print on December 7, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) recommended that Covid-19 vaccinations be offered to children aged five to eleven years. The advice was given to the Government on the morning of December 8, and around 480,000 primary school children will now be offered a vaccine.