Younger kids, unvaccinated teens still need masks when school begins this fall

Pediatricians in Utah say cases of the Delta strain of the coronavirus are likely to spread through classrooms.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Allison Price, 15, receives the Pfizer vaccine when 12- to 15-year-olds were vaccinated against COVID-19 at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Utah pediatricians urge urge parents in Utah to vaccinate eligible children before returning to school.

| July 16, 2021, 21:39

With teen vaccination rates below 40%, younger children still ineligible for COVID-19 injections, and schools banned by law from requiring masks, Utah pediatricians say a new wave of cases could be expected this fall. as the Delta strain of the coronavirus is likely to spread through classrooms.

“I think it’s really concerning, especially when we have a vulnerable population under 12 that can’t be vaccinated,” said Dr. Tim Duffy, a pediatrician for Intermountain Healthcare, at a news conference Friday. “Personally, I’d like to see kids wear masks at school, especially in that age group.”

But Utah lawmakers have banned counties from requiring masks, and it’s not clear whether unvaccinated students will voluntarily wear them.

“In an ideal world, we’d have everyone who isn’t vaccinated when they’re inside the classroom, and we’d vaccinate as many eligible children as possible. If we did, school would be about as normal as we can make it,” agreed Dr. Andy Pavia.

“Unfortunately, the school districts and local health officials have tied their hands,” he added, “and quite frankly, many of us are very upset and concerned about that.”

Pavia urged parents to be proactive in trying to shape the norms in their children’s classroom before classes begin.

“For example, schools can’t mandate masking in a fourth-grade classroom,” he said. “But there’s no reason why the kids, their parents and the teachers can’t work together and do the right thing.”

Meanwhile, with a three-week wait between the first and second dose, it will soon become increasingly clear how many of Utah’s high school and high school students will go to school vaccinated.

“If you want your kids to have adequate immunity on the first day of school, now is the time to start the series,” Pavia said.

About 38% of Utah’s 12- to 18-year-olds had been vaccinated as of Friday — more than national standards, Pavia said, but nowhere near the 70% or 80% needed for herd immunity, which would protect immunocompromised students, for example.

“The picture this fall will be very different from what we thought when things looked better,” Pavia said. “There will be a lot of concerns about transmission in school.”

But getting parents to vaccinate their children is proving difficult in light of what Pavia called “malicious” and “deliberate” social media misinformation: For example, claims that the side effects of the vaccine are more serious for children, that teens are protected from serious symptoms if they get the virus, or if the vaccine is causing infertility.

“That’s 100% total nonsense,” said Pavia. “There are a few groups that are sowing Facebook with misinformation.”

Pavia and Duffy urged parents to make vaccination decisions for their children in consultation with their own doctors. “I think it’s really good to talk to someone you know personally,” Duffy said.

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