A CORK-based professor researching long Covid has said that people need to exercise their own best judgement when it comes to the return to school.
Professor Liam O’Mahony, a principal investigator in the SFI Research Centre APC Microbiome Ireland, Department of Medicine and School of Microbiology at University College Cork (UCC) is leading a team that has been working on researching the effects of long Covid in people following Covid-19 infection.
Speaking to The Echo, Prof O’Mahony said that while his research has focused solely on long Covid in adults, he added it does exist in children but with lower risk.
“It does exist but the risk is lower for children compared to adults and we just don’t know yet how significant that risk is,” he said.
His comments come as concerns have been raised amongst medical professionals and members of the public about the return to school and the risk involved.
“My advice to parents is that I do know from the college’s point of view in UCC the amount of effort that’s gone into making sure the space is going to be a safe place for students is phenomenal. The schools are the same.
“I have never seen such responsibility with teachers and people in the education sector. People are really trying to make sure people are safe and that’s the message to reassure people that every effort has been made to make sure they are safe places,” he said.
AXA Research Chair of Applied Pathogen Ecology at UCC Gerry Killeen said that long Covid “is not a joke in kids” and that he is relieved that both his children have had their first vaccine.
He said that large studies on long Covid are “crystal clear” and show that “some of the epidemiological challenges with long Covid are very similar to chronic parasitic infections”.
He said that while such infections do not make people sick enough to go to hospital most of the time, that they make people sick enough to slow them down long term and reduce productivity.
“It takes very large studies but those large studies have been done now and it’s crystal clear, you can argue about exactly about what the numbers are, there are some studies showing long Covid rates of up to 50% in young adults but the middle of the dartboard is the UK ONS [Office for National Statistics] which is about 7 or 8% and even if you go with the Oxford study and go with the 4%, that is a lot.
“A 4% chance that your child will be really substantially debilitated for months and for some of them that will be years and for some may be life long so for me that’s too much risk and if you look at the basic 101 rules of infectious disease transmission modelling, probably our primary schools are enough to sustain endemic transmission indefinitely.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said that the aim of all Covid-19 infection prevention and control measures that are in place is to support schools to operate safely and prevent the introduction of Covid-19 and the onward transmission of Covid-19 among the school community.