As schools open like the Delta variant of COVID-19 increases, children under the age of 12 face increasing risks of infection without protection from vaccines. There are thousands of preventable hospital admissions from COVID-19 in the United States every week and their numbers are increasing every day. Hospitals across the country, especially in areas experiencing significant COVID-19 outbreaks, have reported lack of beds for pediatric patients. Provided that “everyone will get the virus” in the hope that vaccines will reduce serious outcomes is unsustainable for children who remain not eligible for vaccines. With Delta spread rapidly and childhood vaccines just around the corner, we need effective prevention policies to prevent more childhood diseases, hospitalizations and possible deaths.
As parents of young children, we share parental anxiety which arises from having to choose between sending our children to school or childcare and protecting them from illness. Some schools is closed in the past week due to rising infections, leaving parents few options, like federal unemployment insurance the benefits are coming to an end.
As political scientists, we know that there is clear proof the universal mask policy and Other things mitigation strategies can reduce children’s risks. The biggest challenge we face is the lack of federal leadership and the political will to act.
Record high hospital admissions constitute a national emergency. We need President BidenJoe BidenBriahna Joy Gray: Democrats Play ‘Play Chicken’ With Infrastructure Bills Overnight Health Care: Intel General Recognizes Intel’s Missing Speed of Afghan Collapse Overnight Health Care: US Launches Booster Shot September 20 | Bitten to require COVID-19 vaccination of all nursing home staff | Democrats embrace COVID seats in governorship MOREmanagement. There are several steps the administration can take to protect our children.
- Call for state policies for indoor mask. “Universal masking is essential” is unique recommendation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers. Mask policies are an easy and cost-effective strategy to reduce risks. A few states and the District of Columbia now have policies for indoor masks, however 43 states and DC had statewide mask policies in 2020. Statewide mask policies do not have to mean masking forever. Nevada has a smart, data driven policies that require indoor masking when cases increase and removal of masks when cases decrease. A team of modelers has developed one similar strategy for schools, best implemented when transmission meets the CDC standard for “low”. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend universal masking in schools, and a majority of the parents support school mask requirements.
- Issue an emergency permit for vaccines for children under 12. With the Delta variant, children should be vaccinated. Data from clinical trials of pediatric vaccines will be available as early as September. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required two months of follow-up data from the adult trials to issue an emergency use permit, the agency requested four to six months of data from the child trials. This is longer than our children can expect, with estimates indicating it up 80 percent could be infected in the fall. Tens of thousands of people have probably received the vaccinations. Rare reactions that occur are generally mild, especially compared to the risk of COVID. A vaccination distribution plan that delivers childhood vaccines quickly and reasonably can ensure that the children who need vaccine protection the most get it quickly and easily.
- Requires vaccinations for school staff, including teachers. Vaccines work remarkably well prevent infections and hospitalization, and they are an important strategy for reducing transmission. California recently became the first state to mandate teachers and school staff are vaccinated or subjected to weekly tests. Several other states have imposed vaccination on other sectors, such as healthcare professionals, correctional staff and other government employees. When vaccination requirements for teachers and other staff are paired with universal masking policies, the risk to children is reduced.
- Support other strategies for mitigation in school. Mitigation strategies are most effective when layered. Along with universal indoor masking and vaccines, the Biden administration should support school districts in improving ventilation in schools, eliminates risky indoor activities such as crowded cafeteria and regular testing of students and staff.
Instead of asking American families to make the difficult decision of choosing to keep their children isolated or send them to potentially high-risk schools, our leaders have an easy choice: act now to reduce risks to children, or leave uncontrolled transmission continue in communities and schools, possibly resulting in serious illness or death among America’s children. The moral and ethical choice is clear. We must protect our children.
Courtney E. Boen, Ph.D., MPH, is an assistant professor and Axilrod Faculty Fellow at the Department of Sociology, a research assistant at the Population Studies Center & Population Aging Research Center and a senior fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on drivers of population health inequalities. Follow her on Twitter @CourtneyBoen.
Julia Raifman, ScD, is an assistant professor at Boston University School of Public Health, where she researches how social policy affects the health of the population. She developed COVID-19 US State Policy Database to track changes in the state’s health and social policy with a focus on those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and its consequences. Follow her on Twitter @JuliaRaifman.
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