Anyone with a 12-to-15-year-old in their life got encouraging news this week when our colleagues reported that the Food and Drug Administration is set to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in this age group by early next week. On Tuesday, Pfizer said it also expected to apply in September for authorization to administer its Covid-19 vaccine to children ages 2 to 11.
So what exactly does this vaccine news mean for the next school year?
Being able to have their kids vaccinated will no doubt be reassuring to many parents, including some who have not felt comfortable sending their children back to school in person yet. That will most likely mean more students attending in-person classes next school year. (Some states have already said that remote learning will not continue to be an option for most students in the fall.)
It may also change discussions about what school should look like: A number of districts that have not yet reopened full time for all students have recently made statements theoretically committing them to doing so in the fall. But there may still be fights in places with strong and reluctant teachers’ unions, especially in districts where students can’t maintain at least three feet of distance (and six feet during lunch, as guidelines call for) if all students attend full time.
But will social distancing still be necessary in schools in the fall?
In districts where vaccination rates among students and staff are extremely high — 90 percent or higher — or in schools that require vaccination to attend in person, students and teachers should be able to ditch their masks and end social distancing, said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
He said that was part of what had led officials at Brown to require that students be vaccinated to attend classes. “What motivated us was a desire to have a fall semester that felt like it was the optimal experience that students really needed for college, and I would make the same case for high school,” Dr. Jha said.
For public schools, vaccine requirements are set by states, and it is unclear if any will mandate coronavirus vaccines for students. But private schools may be able to require that students be vaccinated, and Dr. Jha said he had been in touch with some in Massachusetts that were considering doing so in order to be able to offer a more normal school environment.
There are many parts of the country where the vaccination rate among children and adolescents is likely to be low, as it has been for adults. Those are also the places where many schools have already reopened full time, so the low vaccination rate probably won’t make a difference there.
At the same time, some experts think that, as long as more American adults get vaccinated, the country doesn’t have to wait to vaccinate children and adolescents before reasonably letting up on precautions like social distancing and masking in schools.
Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, pointed to data from Israel, where roughly 60 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, and the United Kingdom, where roughly 52 percent has. (Forty-five percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose.)
“They’ve driven their case numbers way down without having to vaccinate kids,” she said. “So it’s not as though vaccinating kids is the only path to getting to a mask-free future. I actually think we can make a lot of progress without having to do that.”
Regardless of whether kids are vaccinated, Dr. Nuzzo said she thought it would be helpful to define “what the endgame is” — in other words, determining at what level of cases, hospitalizations or deaths Americans would be ready to let people, including children in schools, stop distancing and take off their masks.
“We don’t implement mask requirements and social distancing requirements for seasonal flu,” she said. “Certainly, if it’s at seasonal flu rates or lower, it’s going to be hard to justify.”
Unorthodox college graduations
Across the country, as seniors prepare to flip their tassels, colleges are scrambling to plan pandemic-safe commencements, our colleague Rukmini Callimachi reports.
Each institution is making its own decision, and many students are enviously eyeing other nearby schools. Some graduation ceremonies will be in person. Most will be atypical. A few have gotten contentious.
The latest on how the pandemic is reshaping education.
In Massachusetts, Harvard University announced that its seniors would graduate virtually and their diplomas would be mailed to them, while just two miles away, Boston University will be hosting two in-person outdoor graduation ceremonies.
Other schools are making modifications. Vanderbilt in Tennessee is staggering arrival times for its ceremony so students enter the venue in shifts. Methodist University in North Carolina will require its seniors to get tested. Indian River State College has held drive-in ceremonies in Florida. Yale will allow only students to attend the ceremony, while family members and guests can watch a livestreamed version.
And at the University of Tampa, dissent is growing. When the school announced it would host commencement online, graduating students started a GoFundMe for an in-person celebration. “A 45-minute virtual commencement of my name being scrolled across the screen just simply wasn’t enough,” said Allison Clark, who is organizing the unofficial alternative.
Around the country
The head of the Chicago Public Schools, Janice Jackson, will leave her job in June, meaning that the top posts at the nation’s three largest districts will all turn over this year.
School districts are spending millions of federal dollars on unproven air purifiers that might be harmful, according to Kaiser Health News.
Camps are getting ready to open, as families clamor for spots. Here are some of the ways they’re planning to keep kids safe this summer.
An opinion: It’s time to stop closing schools one day a week for so-called deep cleaning, Robin Lake argues in The 74.
A good read from The Times: Our colleague Patricia Mazzei took a deeper dive into Centner Academy, the Miami private school that sought to bar vaccinated teachers. It’s a portrait of howanti-vax conspiracies can take hold.
Another look: Without home internet, one 11-year-old boy in Mississippi struggles to stay connected to remote classes.
And a listen: In the final episode of “Odessa,” a school district in West Texas faces a mental health crisis.
Time vaccines correctly
The C.D.C. currently recommends that people wait two weeks before or after a Covid vaccine to get any other inoculations. That could mean a seven- or eight-week window when other shots should not be given.
For children who need doses for camp, school or sports, parents may need to plan ahead.
“Parents will need to plan with their pediatricians how to coordinate those along with catching up on their other shots,” Dr. Perri Klass writes in The Times.
“And younger children who have other shots due might want to consider catching up right now, so that they’re fully up-to-date for sports, camp or school,” Dr. Klass adds. “That way, as soon as they are eligible for Covid vaccines, there won’t be so much juggling to be done.”
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