Getting children vaccinated against COVID-19 will help 'control the chaos' in schools, a leading GP says.
Dr Brendan O'Shea says the vaccines' benefits to individual children are "definite but small", but they also bring significant benefits to the wider community.
Vaccination for children aged 5 to 11 has been getting underway in the last number of weeks.
As of last week, more than 100,000 children in the age group had been registered for a vaccine, out of around 480,000 children in total.
Tens of thousands of vaccine doses are now being administered to children each week, alongside the continuing booster programme for the adult population.
Dr Brendan O’Shea - Kildare GP and Assistant Adjuvant Professor for Public Health and Primary Care at Trinity College Dublin - spoke to The Pat Kenny Show.
He said it's clear parents carry "a whole lot of doubts around everything to do with their children" - including vaccination.
He said: "We’re having a lot of conversation in practice, and there’s a lot of conversation on social media and indeed mainstream media about this.
"People are really working this one through in their heads."
However, he said his own practice is “deliberately and systematically” encouraging parents to bring their children in for vaccination.
He observed: “The benefit to children individually is definite but small, but the benefit to their communities - and particularly their extended family networks - is significant.
“We know at this stage that the immunisation is very safe, so there is really a compelling argument at different levels.
"It’s not just about the individual child: it’s about their family, their granny, their aunt, their uncle… or if they have a significant medical condition.
“It’s about controlling the chaos in schools. For the foreseeable future, for the next several years, any time gets a cough, cold or runny nose… this whole question of isolation is going to crop up and continue to be a big issue.”
He said it's "utterly fantastic" that the lockdown is over, but the pandemic is very much "still on".
Dr O'Shea encouraged anyone hesitant about the vaccines to “engage in the conversation and work through the doubts".
He also warned there's "damaging misinformation" on social media about vaccination, suggesting parents should instead look to resources such as the HSE website.
He said the vaccines aren't “perfectly effective”, but they are very safe and have been enormously effective - including “markedly slowing transmission” and keeping people from going into ICU.
Dr O'Shea said: “We’re so lucky to have them - it would be a bit of a tragedy, really, not to optimise their use in our communities.
“Some people who choose not to immunise... you almost get a sense they’re doing it as a political expression - ‘I’m not going to be a victim of this nanny state’.
"It would be much better if they could find a different way to express their political point of view than by not getting immunised.”
He also argued in favour of a TRIPS waiver - a mechanism that would temporarily waive intellectual property rights around the vaccines so low and middle-income countries could start producing the vaccines themselves.
Dr O'Shea said such a measure is needed out of "generosity" for people who haven't been as lucky as the Irish population, but also a "common sense" to suppress the emergence of further virus variants.