November 9, 2021

Benefits of in-person school outweigh Covid-19 risks, study finds

Daily Briefing

A recent study published in Science found the benefits of in-person schooling outweigh the risks of Covid-19. But as some schools continue to close due to coronavirus outbreaks, many schools are participating in the "nationwide effort" to vaccinate children ages five to 11 and turn the tide of the pandemic.

In-person school benefits outweigh Covid-19 risks

For the study, researchers in the United Kingdom analyzed studies from around the world examining how Covid-19 impacted children and how the coronavirus spread throughout classrooms.

Initially, the researchers found that children "represented only a tiny fraction of total cases, hospitalizations, and deaths due to Covid-19 and invariably developed mild, transient, and self-limiting illnesses."

Further research determined that children and adults were equally as likely to be infected by the coronavirus but that children were less likely to transmit the virus. They also found communities with schools implementing mitigation measures like masking and social distancing saw more limited Covid-19 outbreaks both within classrooms and throughout the community.

"Although school closures may contribute to reducing transmission, by themselves, they would be inadequate in preventing community transmission and, consequently, the benefits of in-person schooling outweigh the risks," the researchers wrote.

According to Axios, a McKinsey analysis from July found the pandemic left kindergarten through 12th grade U.S. students five months behind in math and four months behind in reading by the end of the 2020-2021 school year. And while the number of school closures has declined this fall, many schools are still shutting down in-person learning in attempts to contain outbreaks.

Efforts to vaccinate children are underway

Meanwhile, following FDA's authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, CDC director Rochelle Walensky noted that school closures have had detrimental social and mental health impacts on children, and said, "Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that."

To facilitate vaccination of this younger age group, many elementary schools nationwide have started preparing to become vaccination sites for children. In Duluth, Minnesota, more than 250 families have signed up for vaccinations since Thursday. School Superintendent John Magas said the vaccines are a "game changer."

"This brings us one step closer to moving from pandemic to endemic," he said. "It allows us to reconsider things like social distancing and masking and things like that as safety permits."

Chicago Public Schools announced it will be canceling school on Nov. 12 for "Vaccination Awareness Day" to give parents an opportunity to get their children vaccinated.

In addition, Guadalupe Guerrero, superintendent of schools in Portland, Oregon, announced that vaccines will be offered in eight elementary schools starting next week in high-poverty districts.

And in Hartford, Connecticut, school superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said school vaccination clinics will be planned alongside local hospitals and will include school nurses.

"We take an equity stance here and think about the access and removing any barriers that our families might have," Torres-Rodriguez said.

The Biden administration will send a letter to U.S. elementary schools within the next week asking them to host vaccination clinics, the Associated Press reports. First Lady Jill Biden will also be traveling to Virginia to visit a vaccination clinic at Franklin Sherman Elementary School—the first school to administer the polio vaccine in 1954—to start a "nationwide effort" to vaccinate children.

According to Hayley Meadvin, a senior advisor to the Department of Education, school districts across the country are planning vaccination clinics. And in areas where schools elect not to hold vaccination clinics, families can get their children vaccinated at the doctors' office, a hospital, or other sites.

"There are many points of access, and there's no wrong door, honestly," Meadvin said. (Eaton-Robb, Associated Press, 11/7; Reyes, Axios, 11/7; Gonzalez, Axios, 11/5; Walsh, Axios, 11/6; Erman/Steenhuysen, Reuters, 11/2)

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