Warnings that worshippers at the closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families run a risk of contracting infectious diseases have been overstated, a leading doctor has said.
Dr Jack Lambert, consultant in infectious diseases in Dublin’s Mater Hospital, told RTÉ Radio it was “very unlikely” that pilgrims to the August 26 Mass in the Phoenix Park would catch any infectious illness.
He was responding to claims from the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre that mass gatherings of this nature pose “unique health risks to attendants” and that pilgrims should ensure they are up to date on vaccinations, particularly for measles.
Noting how there is a small number of cases of measles in Ireland every year, Dr Lambert said the odds of people with measles interacting with non-vaccinated pilgrims at the gathering of over 500,000 people were low. “It’s a theoretical concern, but I think the risk has been overplayed tremendously for that particular infection,” he said.
Dr Lambert dismissed suggestions that Irish people need to think of getting extra vaccinations ahead of the gathering.
“I think people are safe already,” he said, stressing that “that’s really not an issue in Ireland. I think people are well vaccinated and I think vaccine-preventable diseases are not going to spread rampantly at the papal visit, in my opinion.”
Reassuring pilgrims that they need not fear shaking hands with other Mass-goers during the Sign of Peace, Dr Lambert said: “I would encourage everyone to shake hands – I think the risk of transmitting any infection in this event is second to none.”