The CDC released its “back to school” guidance on July 9, just weeks before school doors open. The suggestions encourage schools to open with unvaccinated staff and students over the age of two years wearing masks.¹ Currently vaccines are only available for students age 12 and over in the U.S. under EUA (emergency use authorization).
As the news comes, schools and states begin to plan their strategy for the upcoming school year. California plans to leave mask mandates in place for now.² Other suggestions include social distancing at an updated three feet.¹ It is unclear how many schools will continue to offer virtual schooling as an option.
Threat of COVID in Schools
Since March of 2020, schools have been assessing, implementing, reassessing, and implementing new plans to keep students and staff safe. Social distancing, masks, heightened cleaning regimens, and virtual education have all been used to mitigate potential infection.
A recent study in England showed that COVID outbreaks and infections were low in school settings. The article concluded with, “Interventions should focus on reducing transmission in and among staff.”³ Students don’t carry the same concern due to the low transmission in the population.
Effects of COVID on Mental Health Among Students
Helping children cope with the emotional effects of the pandemic has been something many parents and educators have had to face.
A recent report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that since the pandemic started, mental health-related visits to hospital emergency rooms rose 24 percent for children ages 5-11, and 31 percent for children ages 12-17 compared with data from 2019.⁴
Concerned parent and pediatrician at Chicago Area Pediatrics, Valerie Kimball, sent a letter to the school board of Evanston, Illinois. The letter was to be read at the December 14, 2020 school board meeting in the Chicago suburb.
Dr. Kimball acknowledged the physical concerns the pandemic held. She wrote, “We are on the brink of losing many of our children to the downward spiral of mental illness – anxiety, depression, drug use and overdose, and suicide as a result of delayed in-person schooling – not to mention those we have lost because they have given up on education.”⁵
Children and COVID
Children are not considered “super spreaders” of COVID. In fact, a recent study in the U.K. has recently reported that, “Most young people face an ‘extremely low’ risk of illness and death from Covid-19 and have no need to shield from the virus.”⁶
There were three studies in the U.K., with one focusing on the death rates of children while two focused on severe illness. One of the studies found that, “99.995% of the 469,982 children in England who were infected during the year examined by researchers survived.”⁷ These studies were designed to help evaluate the need for vaccination in children as they became available.
Recently, The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged that “children should not be vaccinated at the moment.” The verbiage was quickly changed to reflect that it was “less urgent” to vaccinate children than other populations. Under EUA qualifications, the benefits need to outweigh the risks for approval. With concerns of myocarditis and blood clots, many are questioning whether or not the mRNA vaccines fit that criteria.
Studies are underway by Pfizer and Moderna in hopes to have approval or vaccines granted for use in children by this fall.⁸ This would allow for the vaccine to be available for the upcoming school year.
The FDA has recently been under pressure to grant full approval for the mRNA vaccines. Many suggest this move would help with vaccine mandates and overcome vaccine hesitancy.⁹ Others are urging the FDA to allow the EUA in place as data is collected to “get the science right.”¹⁰ In June, 27 experts petitioned the FDA suggesting the EUA allows access to those who want the vaccine and for whom it shows greater benefit than risk.