Back to school (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)
We’ve all seen the news lately. It’s rife with images of chaotic school board meetings and rallies starring adults engaged in tantrums, which we would never tolerate from our children. Every parent wants what they believe is best for their children. However, if we want them to get back to school safely, the adults in the metaphorical room need to stop fighting and adhere to public health guidelines.
As health care professionals, our message is that children should safely return to the school setting. The needs of our children are best addressable in school as opposed to remotely. Children who require interventions such as occupational therapy, nutritional and safety assessments, behavioral counseling, etc., can be identified, and services provided. Children’s psychosocial and emotional development is also enhanced by interacting with peers and teachers in person. In short, the benefits of in-class learning are imperative, and we must focus on keeping the school environment safe, given what we know about the community spread of COVID-19.
How do we do that? Masks and vaccines work. Would you send your child to school without protection from rain or snow? Then, don’t send your child to school without a mask in the middle of this deadly pandemic.
The science is clear. Wearing a mask lessens the risk of COVID-19 transmission. In close indoor environments, we need to ensure that proper ventilation is available, appropriate social distancing is followed, and that we protect our school communities by wearing masks.
Eligible individuals who are 12 and older must get vaccinated. Vaccines lessen the risk of severe covid complications, including hospitalization and death, and help us protect vulnerable people who are not yet eligible for inoculation.
Two CDC studies published in late August conclude that covid cases, ER visits, and hospitalizations are lower among children from communities with higher vaccination rates. July data from 14 states indicated that hospitalizations among unvaccinated adolescents 12-17 years were nearly ten times higher than those who were fully vaccinated. A second study reported a nearly fourfold higher hospitalization rate among children and adolescents who were not fully vaccinated (August data).
These studies highlight the importance of vaccinating to protect ourselves and our children. Though chances of serious illness, hospitalizations, and death are low in children, it does occur, with a disproportionate number of Black and Latino children experiencing significant complications.
When I encounter a vaccine-hesitant patient, I routinely ask them if they know any cure for polio or smallpox. Invariably, the response is no. I inform them that we have no cure for these diseases and that they no longer occur due to the success of our vaccine initiatives. Smallpox vaccines became mandatory, resulting in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Boston Department of Health in 1905. Smallpox is now a historical footnote globally, and the vaccine is no longer needed.
Vaccine science isn’t new. The barrage of misinformation on social media comes with a political slant, while the science remains apolitical. Our mission is clear. We aim to discover best practices for keeping people informed and safe.
As adults, we are our children’s protectors, and we owe it to them to make sure we are making the right decisions for their health, which means making sure we are vaccinated against COVID-19 and ensuring that our children, if eligible, are too.
We also need to make sure that they are up to date on their wellness check-ups, vaccinations, and, when in school, wearing a mask. The scrimmaging, silliness, and sideshows need to end, and our priority needs to be on keeping our kids healthy and safe.
Dr. Beverly Sheppard is the Chair of the Pediatrics Department at AdvantageCare Physicians (ACPNY), one of the largest primary and specialty care practices in the New York area.