Many countries are now considering letting children go back to school. After all, it’s still important that kids get their education no matter what happens. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said that many factors need to be considered and worked out in partnership with local health departments before individual school districts can open again.
Some of these factors include keeping kids at a safe distance from each other when in the classroom or on a playground and knowing when schools will need to shut down again if infection rates rise. "From a health perspective, the health of kids and the health of staff has to be thought through before schools reopen," explained pediatrician Dr. Nathaniel Beers.
Beers added that schools provide much more than just education. They also help in a child’s development. “Many children are reliant on school for free lunch and other meals. Other kids get special education services like speech therapy and occupational therapy. Schools are a real, clear piece of kids' behavioral health support and community support,” he said.
However, experts said that there are also other factors that parents and school administrations need to consider such as the children’s vaccinations. Children have fallen behind schedule for critical immunizations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many parents are worried if it’s truly safe for their kids to go back to school.
COVID-19 Pandemic Disrupts Routine Vaccinations on Children
Recent data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF revealed that vaccine campaigns have been disrupted in at least 68 countries—an interruption unseen since widespread immunization campaigns began in the 1970s. Many governments reported either moderate interruptions to the programs or suspension of their programs completely. About 27 countries have reportedly postponed campaigns of vaccinations that protect against measles, while more than a dozen have paused some polio vaccination programs.
“Immunization is one of the most powerful and fundamental disease prevention tools in the history of public health. Disruption to immunization programs from the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, said in a statement.
According to DW.com, a German public international broadcaster, global lockdowns and the significant reduction in flights that came with it have resulted in major delays in vaccine deliveries. Many parents aren’t able to take their children to clinics because of movement restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus or because they are scared about the risk of exposure to the virus.
Earlier in May, US federal health officials reported that routine vaccination of children across the country dropped dramatically in March and April as a result of the coronavirus response. In Michigan, for instance, it was found that the number of non-flu vaccine doses administered to children decreased by 22%. Also, vaccine doses in children younger than two years old decreased by 16%.
"The observed declines in vaccination coverage might leave young children and communities vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles," wrote Cristi Bramer and colleagues at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Immunization Action Coalition in Minnesota and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Children Need Vaccinations
Many health professionals and school officials are worried about whether children will be up to date with their vaccinations by the time schools reopen. For instance, more than 90% of the population is needed to reach herd immunity for measles. “We can’t get below that. Some immuno-compromised kids depend on those around them. If we live in a society, we have an obligation to them,” pediatrician Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said.
According to National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel that is owned by National Geographic Partners, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked into the impact of COVID-19 on national pediatric vaccination trends. Data showed that orders of all publicly purchased non-flu vaccines—including hepatitis, meningitis, polio, and rotavirus—were sharply down in April.
The massive drop in vaccination rates poses a threat not only to immuno-compromised kids but also to other people. Karina Cookse, who’s a mother to 8-year-old Simon, is wondering if he’ll have to attend third grade at home in Plain City, Utah. Simon has a genetic disease that destroys his immune system, and Cookse is terrified about him getting infected by COVID-19.
“I’m highly concerned about kids not getting their shots. When most of the population gets vaccinated, we achieve herd immunity for vulnerable people,” she said.
Pediatricians and school nurses worry that the decline in fully vaccinated children could lead to outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, and other serious infectious diseases this year. According to ABC News, an online site that covers breaking news, videos, and the latest top stories in world news, business, politics, health, and pop culture, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio emphasized that the drop in vaccination rates is especially dangerous this year.
Non-vaccinated children are at greater risk of contracting respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. Thus, they are more vulnerable both to COVID-19 and MIS-C, the rare new inflammatory illness in children. Dr. Richard Besser, the former acting director of CDC, said “there is nothing that we do for children that has more proven health value than getting them fully vaccinated on time.”
“While we are all hoping for the development of a safe and effective vaccine against the new coronavirus, we can’t let our guard down against the diseases for which we currently have vaccines. Measles, whooping cough, and polio are just a few diseases that we rarely see because of the miracle of vaccination,” he added.
Experts also stressed that it’s important to keep immunization programs up not only to prevent the spread of diseases but also because those are the same networks that will be used to distribute vaccines for the coronavirus when available.
“Due to COVID-19, this immense progress is now under threat, risking the resurgence of diseases like measles and polio. Not only will maintaining immunization programs prevent more outbreaks, but it will also ensure we have the infrastructure we need to roll out an eventual Covid-19 vaccine on a global scale,” Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, said in a statement.