Call for higher Covid vax rate in children as winter looms

Source: 1News

An expert says the low rate of Covid-19 vaccination in children aged 5 to 11 is a "real problem" as winter looms.

Epidemiologist professor Michael Baker says the low rates of vaccination in children is a key aspect the Government needs to look at.

Only 25% of eligible 5 to 11-year- olds are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to Ministry of Health data.

Baker told Breakfast a "very proactive approach" is needed for schools in order to put a handbrake on the virus over winter.

READ MORE: Teachers seeing Covid disruption impacting student wellbeing

The country is looking at a "really big peak" of the virus, flu and RSV during this time, he said.

Baker is among a group of University of Otago experts calling for a Covid-19 action plan for schools.

They say the transmission of the virus and other respiratory diseases needs to be taken more seriously.

They want to see routine mask wearing in schools and a high standard of indoor air quality. High vaccination coverage is also a must.

The Green Party has made a similar call and wants to see N95 masks given to teachers and students.

Kids with masks on at school.

It also wants to see "urgent steps" taken to improve uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine and a "stronger focus" on indoor air quality.

"Where's the plan? The Government needs to support schools and families so no-one is left to muddle through winter by themselves," Teanau Tuiono, the party's Covid-19 response spokesperson said.

"Opening classroom windows as the outside temperatures plummet is not a good enough plan to keep children, young people, their teachers and whānau safe."

Currently, at the Orange level of the traffic light system, masks are only required to be worn by those aged 12 and over on school and public transport.

The use of masks is "strongly encouraged" for those in Year 4 to 13 when indoors.

READ MORE: More than 150 experts plea for classroom masking over winter

In March, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said it was expected all schools would have at least one portable air cleaner by this month.

Auckland Primary Principals Association president Wendy Kofoed says her school - Newmarket School - is "absolutely prepared" to return to online learning if needed.

She told Breakfast there is a "challenge" with face-to-face learning at the moment with pupils and staff impacted by the virus.

Kofoed said the school had been combining classes or moving teachers around in an effort to deal with absences.

There is an extra 10 pupils in some classrooms "regularly", she said.

"Some days I don't know how many teachers I'll have," Kofoed admitted.

She said there were a "great many" children off with the virus in Term 1, but staff were more impacted this term.

However, Kofoed said schools remained focused on getting children back into the rhythm of learning they had prior to the virus.