Controversial reason to keep schools open

By | March 16, 2020

The decision to keep schools open to develop “herd immunity” has been met with criticism.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison referenced the concept when questioned why such a decision was made and deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said having no herd immunity against coronavirus made everyone susceptible.

“The important issue of herd immunity that we talk about a lot in vaccination is exactly the challenge that we have at the moment,” Dr Kelly said.

Herd immunity is where you hope millions get a mild dose of the virus and therefore immunise themselves collectively.

But not everyone agrees with the idea.

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Former Australian Medical Association president and MP Kerryn Phelps labelled it as “rubbish”.

“Herd immunity is the desirable outcome of a national immunisation program,” Dr Phelps said on Twitter.

“It is NOT a strategy for preventing illness and death from an uncontrolled infectious disease.

“There is no vaccine against #coronavirus yet.”

Others are on board with the move.

“Keeping the schools open is a defensible option,” epidemiologist and former deputy chief medical officer John Mathews told the Australian Financial Review.

“One possibility is that because childhood infections are so mild, they will transmit smaller doses of virus, and this would induce milder illness in their parents and grandparents at home.

“Contrary to conventional thinking, this could even mean that adults at home, especially older ones, could be major beneficiaries of keeping schools open.”

The UK has also adopted the strategy, which has been met with alarm.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said between 60 to 70 per cent of their population would need to be infected to achieve herd immunity.

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“We think this virus is likely to be one that comes year on year … like a seasonal virus,” he said.

“Communities will become immune to it and that’s going to be an important part of controlling this longer term.”

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British Society for Immunology president Arne Akbar wrote an open letter to the UK government raising “significant concerns” about the strategy and its “severe” consequences if vulnerable people weren’t properly protected.

“For example, we don’t yet know if this novel virus will induce long-term immunity in those affected as other related viruses do not,” he said.

“Therefore, it would be prudent to prevent infection in the first place.”

In an opinion piece for The Guardian Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage said when he heard about Britain’s plan he thought it was satire.

“When I first heard about this, I could not believe it,” he said.

“This is not a vaccine. This is an actual pandemic that will make a very large number of people sick, and some of them will die. Even though the mortality rate is likely quite low, a small fraction of a very large number is still a large number.”

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