Without a Vaccine, Should Parents Send Their Kids Back to School?

Some experts think schools can restart in the fall—with precautions—and offer parents help in making a decision as to whether to send their children back.

If things were normal, planning for a new school year would mean buying notebooks and pencils and finishing summer reading assignments. But these are not normal times. Schools around the country moved to distance learning models this spring as part of an unprecedented shutdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic and saw varied results.

Since then, states have begun phased reopenings, also to varying results. But though restaurants and stores may be back in business, is it safe for parents to send their kids back to school without a COVID-19 vaccine?

“Right now, it does not look like we will have a vaccine for the children for the fall,” says Sharon Nachman, M.D., Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “So, what can we do?”

For one, parents may be able to choose not to physically send their kids to school. But that can come with risks, too, including learning losses. A pair of experts weighed the risks and benefits of sending your kids to school without a vaccine.

Risks of Sending Kids to School Without a Vaccine

The most obvious risk of sending a child to school without a COVID-19 vaccine is that they’ll contract the virus. “I think it’s important in any of these conversations to acknowledge that when we reopen schools, there will be some cases of COVID,” says Emily Oster, Ph.D., a professor of economics at Brown University and author of Expecting Better and Cribsheet.

Children are at a relatively low risk for getting seriously ill with COVID-19. In New York, once the epicenter of the virus, 1 percent of the hospitalizations have been patients under 20 years old. A rare but scary illness, pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, made headlines in May. Symptoms included a rash and trouble breathing, and 94 percent of patients in New York, where the syndrome was first reported in the U.S., tested positive for COVID-19. But so far, there have been 231 reported cases and two deaths in the state.

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