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How can we protect children, under 12 years of age, from the COVID-19 virus?

 Schools have opened for students from K-12 in the fall. This article is designed to address any concerns parents may have about sending their unvaccinated children, under 12 years of age, to school and how to best protect them based on guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
 
When will my children, who are under 12 years of age, be able to receive the vaccine?
Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna started evaluating the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in children 6 months to 11 years of age by administering children aged 2 to 11 years old their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in late March 2021. The next step necessary for vaccine approval would be to submit four to six months of follow up safety data from the clinical trials to the Federal Drug and Administration (FDA). If the data supports granting the vaccine to be used for emergency use on children, the vaccine will be distributed for use on children 5 to 11 years old initially. Full FDA approval will only be granted if the vaccine is proven to be safe and effective in protecting majority of people who receive it.  
 
At the moment, it is unclear when vaccinations for children under twelve years of age will be available. The reason for the delay in the approval of emergency authorization of the vaccine for children younger than 12 is to further study the potential cardiac side effects of the vaccine to ensure its safety prior to approval. Children less than 12 receive a smaller dose of the vaccine compared to adults as they are smaller in size but they have an immune system that reacts faster to fight the virus.
 
Should I vaccinate my children under the age of 12, when it becomes available, despite the side effects of the vaccine I have been hearing on the news?
Yes, Dr. Fuller from University of Michigan, explained that although side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents could occur, with the most severe being heart inflammation, the severity of the COVID-19 infection and its potential to transmit rapidly amongst children is more concerning. The CDC stated that experiencing serious side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine is possible, but extremely rare. For example, as of July, 2021, less than 1% of people, under the age of 30, who were vaccinated reported experiencing temporary heart inflammation. 81% of these patients made a full recovery with less than 1% of them being admitted to the hospital. The risks associated with contracting COVID-19 are far more severe, with the most severe being death, and far more likely than those associated with the COVID-19 vaccine.  
 
The safety and effectiveness of the upcoming vaccine for children under the age of 12 is under rigorous investigation. With more children returning to school and the rise of the more contagious and dangerous Delta variant, the risk of children contracting COVID-19 outweighs the risk of them possibly experiencing side effects from the vaccine. Even if your child contracts the COVID-19 virus after receiving the vaccine, the CDC states that the COVID-19 vaccine would likely protect your child from becoming severely ill.  
 
How can I protect my children under 12 years since they have not been vaccinated?  
The CDC recommends that vaccinated children continue to wear a mask over their nose and mouth when in public, even amongst people who are vaccinated to reduce the spread of vaccine resistant strains. Also, children should stay at least six feet, about two arms length, from other people in public. Children should wash their hands frequently or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, especially after having been outside. Parents should avoid crowded areas, especially activities indoors and try to spend more time outdoors with their unvaccinated children. Finally, parents should clean and disinfect the home frequently and stay home and quarantine, if showing any classic symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, loss of sense of smell and taste and difficulty breathing. Parents should follow the screening guidelines set by health officials in their county. As long as everyone wears a mask and practices social distancing, the virus will be less likely to spread and mutate.
 
Should my children return to school?
Yes, the CDC recommends students, starting from Kindergarten to 12th grade, attend school in person starting this coming fall. The CDC has provided safety guidelines for schools across the US as children return to school for in person classes: (1) All students, vaccinated or not, should keep at least 3 feet, which is an arms length of distance, between each other, and they should wear masks while in school; (2)  The classrooms should be adjusted to allow for physical distancing; (3) Students should frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap or hand sanitizer; and (4)  Each facility has to be cleaned and disinfected with soap or detergent once a day and be well-ventilated.  
 
As long as these and other prevention measures recommended by the CDC are put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the students, teachers, and other school staff will be kept safe, and the chance of COVID-19 spreading amongst students will be low. For example, in a study conducted by Dr. Benjamin, a pediatrician at Duke University, out of the 90,000 teachers and students who were in school, serving pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in North Carolina last fall, there were only 32 cases of school-related COVID-19 transmissions. Another case was conducted across 20 elementary schools in Salt Lake City, Utah which showed that the chance of students with COVID-19 spreading to other students at school was only 0.5% if the school employs the necessary precaution strategies. The chance of your child being infected with the COVID-19 virus from another infected student is about as likely as a child being born with 11 fingers or toes.  
 
In-person schooling is necessary for students to achieve not only quality education; it is also important for students to develop mentally and physically through interaction with their peers and through extracurricular activities. Therefore, parents are strongly encouraged to send their children, starting from kindergarten to grade 12, back to school.
This series of articles around COVID-19 is supported by OCA-APA Advocates Greater Washington DC Chapter internship.  
 

Jina Lee

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