Health Board sends vaccinated teachers to self-isolation as close contacts

August Kitzberg High School in Karksi-Nuia.
August Kitzberg High School in Karksi-Nuia. Source: August Kitzbergi nimeline Gümnaasium/Facebook

Four teachers in a high school in Karksi-Nuia, Viljandi County, who have had their vaccinations carried out completely have been sent home to quarantine after being deemed close contacts with an infected student. The Health Board said the teachers' inoculation did not leave enough time for the development of full immunity.

Last Thursday, a student in the Karksi-Nuia school was diagnosed with the coronavirus. The Health Board mapped out the student's close contacts and determined all their classmates and five teachers should be sent to quarantine, even though four of the teachers had received two doses of coronavirus vaccine.

School director Jaak Israel urged teachers to get vaccinated in the winter by basing his arguments on the Health Board's regulations: vaccinated and recovered persons need not quarantine after coming in contact with an infected persons.

Israel tried to challenge the board's decision, but he was told to not doubt the institution's decisions. Israel does not understand the decision and neither do the teachers.

At first, the Health Board sent five teachers to quarantine, but as the school proved the physical education teacher was only a contact during a class outdoors, they were released from quarantine. One of the teachers was unvaccinated and the director understands the decision there, but there were three other teachers who the director thinks the decision affected unnecessarily.

"I think it is an incomprehensible decision, because we can read that vaccinated and recovered people do not have to remain in self-isolation as close contacts, but then why were vaccinated teachers sent to isolation?" Israel asks. "The teachers were vaccinated, they were wearing masks, the students were wearing masks, the classes were ventilated."

Teachers, who were determined to self-isolate, received their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on May 4. Therefore, 16 days had passed until the student tested positive for the virus.

Tiia Luht, head of the Health Board's southern region, told ERR that the necessary period for immunity for the AstraZeneca vaccine is 15 days after the final jab. According to this calculation, the teachers developed complete immunity on May 19. As the infection was discovered on May 20, the Health Board determined the contact took place on May 17, when teachers and students returned to school.

But the 10-day self-isolation period is taken from the final contact, meaning May 20, so the teachers must remain in quarantine until the end of May.

Director Jaak Israel is left mad by the Health Board's rigidity, because immunity does not develop overnight. He does not believe that two days would have brought such a major change and the Health Board had not determined the period after which the person becomes fully vaccinated in earlier directives.

"It is a borderline case that has completely paralyzed our work. The rigid attitude from the Health Board as they do not consider circumstances. I cannot finish arguing!" Israel states. "I am bothered by the board's rigidity, there is no humanity there. Can you even speak of humanity during a pandemic? Must we be cruel and harsh?"

Tiia Luht does not agree with the school director's assessment of it being a borderline case.

"A directive is a directive. How can a monitoring institution even assess it?" Luht asks. "The person is completely vaccinated if they have received two doses of vaccine and the necessary time has passed for immunity. It is 15 days for AstraZeneca. If the contact happened on the 13th day after receiving the second dose, then the person had not yet developed full immunity and they can get infected as they do not have enough antibodies."

Luht explains that the teacher could have been in contact during the four days when there was already risk of infection. "That contact could have been enough to get infected," Luht said.

Israel tried to challenge the board's decision, but it was not possible. "You can even challenge a court decision for a murder, so you should be able to challenge it for self-isolation. I think we have the right to challenge, look over the circumstances and not just that some official decided and that's that," the school director said.

The Health Board reviewed the cases, but considers the issue closed. "The director does not even understand that self-isolation for the person who has been in close contact with an infected person will be counted from the last close contact on. We reviewed it [on Monday], but it is not possible to annul the decision currently - the risk of infection and it spreading in the school is great," Luht said.

She added that it still too early to assess if someone has fallen ill with the coronavirus in the school yet.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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