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COVID-19: Should Schools Reopen Without Children Being Vaccinated?

How important is vaccination for children below 15 years to reopen schools completely, Dr Manpreet Sethi, Paediatrics Endocrinologist, Max Hospital explains

COVID-19: Should Schools Reopen Without Children Being Vaccinated?
We have more confidence now to go in the direction of reopening schools: NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul

New Delhi: Physical classes for classes 9 to 12 resumed on Monday (February 7) in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha and Bihar. In Delhi, classes for Nursery to standard 8 will resume on February 14. The Centre had last week said that districts with a positivity rate lower than 5 per cent could reopen schools, but the decision would rest with the state governments.

Noting that the pandemic situation has improved and there has been a consistent decline in new COVID-19 cases, NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul said,

We have more confidence now to go in the direction of reopening schools.

Schools in Delhi were briefly reopened before being closed again on December 28 last year in view of the third wave of COVID-19 driven by the Omicron variant.

On the other hand, India’s COVID vaccination drive hit a new milestone with nearly six crore teenagers of the estimated 7.4 crore between the age of 15 and 18 getting their first shot, according to Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya.

Congratulations to youth power. More than 5 crore youth in the age group of 15-18 got the first dose of the vaccine. Young India is fighting the pandemic with full vigour. Great going, my young friends! Mr Mandaviya tweeted, lauding the vaccination drive for teenagers.

In August, India’s drug regulator approved Zydus Cadila’s needle-free ZyCoV-D vaccine for those aged 12 and above. It is the world’s first DNA-platform vaccine for COVID-19, but its rollout has not begun.

Bharat Biotech, the makers of the domestically manufactured Covaxin vaccine, sought permission for emergency use in children aged 12 and over, but regulators have yet to announce a decision.

Vaccination of children in the age group of 12 to 14 against Covid-19 may begin in March, once the inoculation of those in the 15-18 year category is completed and a policy decision in this regard may be taken accordingly, Dr NK Arora, chairman of the Covid-19 working group of NTAGI said in a press briefing.

As per WHO, vaccinating school-aged children may help minimise school disruptions by reducing the number of infections at school and the number of children required to miss school because of quarantine requirements.

While rest of the states are yet to take a call on the reopening of schools, there has been a debate between medical experts, parents and education experts on whether schools should reopen now or after kids are vaccinated. NDTV spoke to Dr Manpreet Sethi, Paediatrics Endocrinologist, Max Hospital, who is also a mother to school-going children. Dr Sethi asserts on de-linking vaccination and school reopening, she explains,

WHO and other scientific bodies are saying that we have to de-link vaccination with school opening as there is no link between the two. We know with vaccination, you are still prone to getting the disease and you are still prone to transmitting it. Even if there is a disease in children, it is very mild and there is a lot of data all over the world that say that the children hardly suffer the incidences of hospitalisation or the mortality is extremely low. So it is clear that children are not severely affected by COVID-19.

Moreover, Dr Sethi adds, in 70-80 percent of the world, schools have been open for last 2 years, even when there was no vaccination.

In countries where vaccination is freely available like UK, they haven’t made vaccination a prerequisite to reopen schools. The UK has just started vaccinating children under 10 years of age, while schools have been open almost throughout the last two years. It is time that we realise that vaccination and school reopening are two different things and it shouldn’t be a prerequisite, she explained.

However, Dr Sethi warns that when the schools reopen, because of Omicron, children are likely to get infected, especially those who haven’t been infected in the previous waves.

They may get mild flu like illness, which used to happen to children earlier as well. Omicron strain is mostly harboured in the upper respiratory passages and it does reduce response like other influenza viruses, where you may get a fever. But it settles within two days. As a paediatrician, we have not seen any severe cases or COVID pneumonia among children in any of the three hospitals where I am working at. When we send our children back to school, we should be prepared that they might catch some infection. But if we don’t send them to schools, we are already facing a pandemic of many lifestyle related problems, like a number of cases for childhood obesity is on the rise, Type II diabetes is increasing, so it is time to make an informed decision based on science and facts, Dr Sethi concluded.

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. runa sinha

    February 10, 2022 at 7:13 pm

    for the age group of 16+ it should open. Vaccination going on for them.

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