Protecting children from COVID-19 and making schools and childcare safer
During this pandemic, nearly all unvaccinated individuals will eventually be infected. Most children in Australia are currently unvaccinated, and only children 12 and over are eligible for vaccination presently. If they are not protected, 1-3% of unvaccinated Australian children may become hospitalised with COVID-19, and more may suffer from ongoing symptoms lasting for a year or more. Paediatric wards, hospitals and health systems may become overwhelmed. School closures and educational disruption are likely.
We still do not know enough about the long-term risks posed by COVID-19 to children, but given what is currently known, and based on the precautionary principle, we should do what we can to protect children.
We must learn from the successes and failures of school re-openings overseas. In San Francisco, through near universal mask use in schools and by providing safeindoor air, there have been very few instances of in-school transmission this year. On the other hand, in England, where neither masks nor safe air are routine in schools, and where vaccination was not recommended for 12-15 year olds until September and then limited to only 1 dose, 7% of high school students and 3% of pre-primary and primary school children recently tested positive and many children are missing school for COVID-19 related reasons.
Protecting children requires vaccinating children when possible, ensuring access to safe air indoor through ventilation, using high quality masks, providing families with flexible choices between home schooling andattending in-person school, and protecting children’s mental health.
• Vaccinating eligible children, their parents and teachers as soon as possible
• Ensuring access to safe indoor air through ventilation and filtration
• Using high quality masks for children and teachers in schools
• Providing families flexible learning options so they can make their own decisions about their children attending school in-person
OzSAGE’s Dr Zoë Hyde said that “With a disease as contagious as COVID-19, almost everyone is going to get infected at some point if they’re not vaccinated. Adolescents are eligible for vaccination now, but younger children will have to wait a little longer until vaccines have been approved for them. Until that happens, it’s vital that we take the right steps to protect children from infection.”
OzSAGE’s Dr Karina Powers said that these actions “will stand us in good stead for any future pandemics and are a worthy investment that protects children, our most precious asset.”
OzSAGE’s Dr Katy McAlpine said “There are many things we can do to improve mental health of families, and the first step is acknowledging that distress due to an unprecedented public health emergency is normal and will further exacerbate existing inequalities in our communities.”
OzSAGE’s Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver said “the populations at most risk are those with large proportion under the vaccination age (12 years); whose kids are in overcrowded circumstances such as multi-family shared housing, multi-story towers, social housing, and those in crisis accommodation. Specific and urgent attention must be paid to those most vulnerable in the appreciable population of those most at risk – children.”
A previous version of this document stated that 8% of schoolchildren in England were infected shortly after the start of the autumn term in September. This was actually the proportion of children absent from school for all reasons. This document has been revised to now refer to data from the Office for National Statistics, which indicate that 3% of primary school students and 7% of high school students were estimated to have a current infection at the start of October.