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School vax hubs to open as cases of 'serious' COVID-linked condition rise

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Nine South Australian children have now been struck down with a rare but serious COVID-linked inflammatory condition, authorities have revealed while announcing locations for a suite of primary school vaccination hubs to try to boost lagging rates.

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Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier this morning told reporters that doctors from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital had reported “up to nine” cases of Paediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome, known as PIMS-TS, “a very rare but very serious condition in children”.

Spurrier said there had been 96 cases reported across Australia.

SA Health, which issued an alert about the condition in early March when there were two cases in SA, says the median age of PIMS-TS is nine and it normally occurs two to six weeks after a COVID infection.

SA Health says signs and symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, rash, red eyes, irritability, stiff neck, headache and a “shock-like presentation”.

Spurrier said it can be prevented through vaccination.

She joined Education Minister Blair Boyer this morning to announce details of 40 new primary school vaccination hubs, as data shows only 59 per cent of South Australian children aged five to 11 have received one dose of a recommended two-dose course.

“For families thinking about vaccinating your children you might think, ‘Oh well, with Omicron it’s not so severe’ but we do know that many children can get more severe illness and indeed we have admissions to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital on a daily basis,” Spurrier told reporters.

“There are many children that also have reasons that make COVID more severe and that can include respiratory conditions such as asthma or heart conditions or neurological problems even including epilepsy.

“So if you are thinking as a parent, ‘Why would I do this?’ there’s really quite a few reason why vaccinating your children against COVID is very important.

“And it also does have a role to play in reducing transmission onwards to other people.”

It comes amid a drop in daily COVID infections, with SA Health reporting 3392 cases, down from 3796 yesterday.

SA Health today said a woman and man aged in their 70s had died after testing positive, while the number of people with COVID in hospital increased from 231 yesterday to 248 today.

There are seven patients in intensive care, down from nine yesterday, with three ventilated.

From May 27, the primary school vaccination hubs will operate in 10 schools a week, on Fridays and Saturdays over four weeks, returning nine weeks later to each school to provide a second vaccine dose.

The clinics will be open to school communities including children and their families on Fridays and the wider community on Saturdays.

The hubs are spread around the state including regional and non-government schools. A list can be found here.

Boyer said most recent data showed that as of Friday last week, there were 3173 students and 589 staff away from SA public schools with COVID.

He said that compared to 5620 students and 847 staff at the end of term one, however close contacts were also required to isolate then.

“So there are still cases, it is still a cause for concern but thankfully still lower than what we saw in that heavily-disrupted term one,” he said.

Boyer said four classrooms had closed for “three-day circuit breakers” so far this term, with no full school closures.

Masks are still mandatory in high schools and recommended for primary students from years 3 to 6.

The Government has said it will review that at the end of next week – week four of the term – with the hope of removing the requirement.

“What I can say is vaccination hubs like this help us and if they work to get that vaccination rate up, it will help us make a decision around removing masks,” Boyer said.

“My hope is that these figures stay steady and that we can be in a position to remove masks at the end of the four week period but we’ll make a decision closer to that date.”

The Government is also doing “remediation” work in schools to “achieve natural ventilation” and is “rolling out” an extra 1000 air purifiers to schools where that can’t be achieved.

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