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Protect Children from COVID-19 as they go back to school: An open letter to parents

By September 13, 2022September 16th, 2022Community Initiatives Featured

From Reetika Kumar, M.D., Vice President of Strategic Clinical Solutions, Independence Blue Cross

As a mother, I know that we would do anything to protect our children and give them a safe, happy school year.

As a physician, I’m confident that one of the best ways to achieve that goal is to vaccinate and boost our children against COVID-19.

After living with the pandemic for two and a half years, we’re finally able to send our children back to school well protected from this virus. Safe, effective vaccines are available for all ages, including booster doses for our school-aged children (five years and older). That’s something to celebrate — and utilize.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced guidelines indicating that we’re in a different phase of the pandemic. The virus remains present and highly contagious, but we have tools to help prevent severe infection and death, including vaccinations, treatments, and immunity from prior infections.

This new phase of the pandemic is why masking is no longer required for many schools, except in the case of exposure, and why quarantines are only necessary for those with confirmed COVID-19 infections. This is welcome news to many of us and will hopefully help create a more normal school year. But the truth is that without masks, the vaccine is the only way we can truly protect our children.

Community rates of COVID-19 remain high, with the CDC reporting more than 90,000 new cases a day across the United States. The real number, if you include at-home test results, is likely to be much larger.

The virus is still actively spreading around us, even as schools move forward with limited COVID-19 requirements. Our vaccinated children are well protected from severe disease and death, and safe to return to a more normal school year. But we can’t underestimate this aggressive, rapidly-changing virus and the risks it can pose for those who aren’t vaccinated.

My family, including my two school-aged children, is fully vaccinated and boosted — and we’ve all had COVID-19. I’m so grateful that we experienced the disease after vaccination, as one of my children suffers from asthma and the vaccine successfully prevented severe symptoms and hospitalization.

I talk to many parents who still have important questions about the safety and value of vaccinating their children against COVID-19. I’m so glad we’re having these conversations, and I encourage you to share any questions you may have with your own doctor or neighborhood pharmacist.

I was so confident in the data that I stood in line with my own daughters for two hours — in the bitter cold! — to get them the vaccine on the first day it was available for their age group.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Children should get vaccinated — and boosted, if eligible — even if they’ve already had COVID-19. Reinfection is common among respiratory viruses, and we should expect our children to face COVID-19 again.

If children had a mild case — as many do — then they may not have developed enough of an immune response to get broad protection.

We know the immunity granted from recovery wanes over time. And, unfortunately, COVID-19 is mutating so rapidly that the neutralizing antibodies gained from fighting last year’s variant may not be helpful against the next version.

We’ve learned a lot about this virus, but we don’t know what to expect next — and I want our children to be protected from whatever that may be.

While the original vaccine doses remain effective in preventing the most severe illnesses, the protection against mild to moderate disease does fade over time. Receiving a booster shot now will provide increased protections against infection, including the latest variant and long COVID.

The COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot are safe and effective for children ages six months and up. The clinical trials were extremely robust, and the FDA authorization process was rigorous. The COVID-19 shots continue to be the most closely-monitored vaccines ever administered in the United States.

We can’t take COVID-19 lightly. This is a virus with the potential for far-reaching complications and effects on every single organ in your body, including the nervous system and respiratory system. Across the United States and around the world, children are suffering from long COVID, hospitalized with severe cases and even dying. Now is not the time to completely let down your guard. While the world wants to return to normal, the only way we and our children can do that safely is with the protection of the vaccine.

It’s a new school year, and it’s time to give our children the freedom to learn, play and enjoy being a kid. Let’s also give them the tools to fight the virus when it shows up.

Together, we can beat COVID-19 — and anything else that comes our way.