- 11 Aug 21
Luke O’Neill is a professor of biochemistry in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin
Earlier this month, Laois County Council denied to issue a license for Electric Picnic, all but ensuring its cancellation and devastating the arts community.
The music festival was set to have over 70,000 attendees this year, but the council stated they were following the "most up-to-date public health advice made available to the council by the HSE."
However, several key vocal figures in the music industry feel that the polarising decision has been taken prematurely. Luke O'Neill is the first well-known expert from the scientific community to speak out, saying that the government needs to "bite the bullet and trust that vaccinations work".
As a leading immunologist, O'Neill has stated that he believes the seven weeks between now and the festival's start date is plenty of time to have over 90% of the adult population vaccinated. He accused the local authority of ducking from responsibility by claiming their reason for not passing the license is simply “following the most up-to-date public health advice from the HSE”.
O'Neill pointed to other large events which had been run safely during the past few months. "The Latitude music festival was held in the UK from July 22–25. It had 40,000 attendees over three days and is a very appropriate event to examine to see what we can learn," he noted.
"[Latitude did] result in an increase in cases, but these numbers were small and, so far, have been deemed consistent with normal community infection rates. This was one of the UK government’s pilot events. It required people to show proof of vaccination or an antigen test. Many relied only on the latter. GPs have since agreed that full vaccination should have been the sole criteria for [attending] the event," he said.
O'Neill explained that he took a poll in his lab which is made up of mostly under-30s about whether or not Electric Picnic should be allowed to go ahead. The result was a unanimous yes.
"We need to bite the bullet and say the vaccines are working as they should, which means large events like Electric Picnic should go ahead for those who are fully vaccinated. We’ve been saying that outdoors is safe, and that vaccination is the way out of the pandemic. Now is the time to show we believe these things. What is very important is the vast majority of people attending are in a very low risk category when it comes to Covid anyway. This means that even if they become infected — which is less likely because ‘everyone’ is vaccinated — they are unlikely to develop Covid that will require hospitalisation," he said.
O'Neill went on to put agency on young people and festival attenders themselves, saying, "we can also trust our young people to be careful after Electric Picnic and observe strict public health guidelines in case they pick up an infection - decreasing the chance of them infecting vulnerable people, the majority of whom are vaccinated anyway."
O'Neill finished noting how the past year has been detrimental, specifically to young people's mental health;
"Our young people deserve our respect. We can trust them. They have had a hellish time of it. Wouldn’t it be some sight to see tens of thousands of young people together outdoors jumping to the music, fully alive again, and showing their faith in the science that delivered the vaccines against Covid? As well as having a good time, of course. It will do their mental and physical health a power of good. Isn’t that what we’re been trying to achieve all along?"
The organisers of Electric Picnic have also issued a statement to ask the government to interrupt their annual recess to consider reopening plans for live events. The body asked that a phased reopening begin on August 16, with no restrictions beginning on September 1. The government has yet to respond.
— Electric Picnic (@EPfestival) August 5, 2021