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

Parents of immunocompromised children may have more concerns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people of any age with certain conditions, including asthma and Type 1 diabetes, can be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

And many children can be asymptomatic. “There’s a risk of kids getting it and then spreading it to more vulnerable populations,” says Dr. Oster. These vulnerable populations include teachers and family members living at home who may be immunocompromised.

Keep in mind: While there’s not currently a COVID-19 vaccine, there are immunizations for contagious diseases like measles. The problem is that, during stay-at-home orders, children fell behind on some of these regular vaccinations, according to the CDC. This leaves children at risk for serious illnesses. “They need to get caught up,” says Dr. Nachman, “so they can prevent the preventable.”

Risks of Not Having Any In-Person Instruction

Sticking with a remote-only option also comes with some risks. During the summer months, students in third to eighth grade usually lose 15 to 30 percent of the learning gains they made in math and 5 to 15 percent in reading, according to the NWEA. Using this data, the organization, which creates academic assessments for students from pre-K-12, forecasted that students who stopped receiving instruction on March 15 could lose 50 percent of learning gains in math. What’s worse, fifth graders could return to school almost a full year behind.

Of course, children did not stop receiving instruction entirely—but some practically have, and it is often students in lower-income families who may not have access to reliable internet or less home support. Only 60 percent of low-income students are regularly attending online instruction compared to 90 percent of high-income students, according to data from Curriculum Associates, an education company founded in 1969 that provides teachers tools and resources to help with student growth. Imagine an entire year of remote learning. It could have devastating long-term effects on their ability to seek higher education and get well-paying jobs.

Dr. Nachman also worries about the loss of social interaction. Children who experienced isolation and school closures in China reported higher rates of depression and anxiety symptoms, according to a survey published in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Children need to be in a social environment,” says Dr. Nachman. “Doing stuff on computers does not allow them to mature socially, and some of the things we’re seeing now is a fair amount of depression and anxiety in children, and that will get worse.”

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