What if there was a deadly virus that had already killed hundreds of children – over four times more than during a typical flu season? (1, 2) What if that virus had hospitalized thousands of children, leaving many of them with long-term health complications? (3) What if that virus was mutating to a now twice-as-contagious version, readily finding children still too young to get vaccinated or whose parents are vaccine-hesitant or flat-out refuse to vaccinate their vulnerable children? What if that virus had caused an 84% spike in pediatric cases in the last week alone and was filling pediatric intensive care units to capacity across the country with critically ill children? And, what if that virus was in the community where you live with local rates rising exponentially – wouldn’t you want to do everything you could to protect your child? Wouldn’t you want experts in public health and pediatrics to determine the most effective ways to keep your child safe?
There is such a virus. It is, of course, Covid -19. And serious cases among unvaccinated children are escalating. This is fact. Medical fact that is easily confirmed by researching non-biased and reputable medical and scientific sources. As our children return to school in a matter of a few short weeks, experts advise that children two-years-old and up wear masks inside schools to keep them safe from Covid.
Public health decisions designed to keep children healthy and safe should not be made by superintendents and school districts without direct consultation with, and confirmation by, reputable medical health experts. Period. They should not be determined by popular demand or by the loudest voice in the room.
Long before Covid, pediatricians have been the trusted source of advice for parents about how to keep children healthy and safe. With the advent of vaccination, pediatricians like ourselves see far fewer deaths and seriously ill children today than generations before us. Parents used to fear diseases like polio and measles that could kill their children or leave them with permanent disabilities. Widespread vaccination has eliminated those fears.
A large part of what we do as pediatricians is preventive: preventing injury by teaching parents how to properly use car seats, by educating parents to place sleeping infants on their backs, by counseling pre-teens about the dangers of vaping before they start, by encouraging vaccination to protect against vaccine-preventable disease. We have dedicated our lives to and are passionate about the health and well-being of our young patients. There is nothing more tragic than the death or injury of a child that could have been prevented; nothing that tears apart a family more than a child’s serious illness, injury or death that did not have to happen, that could have been prevented if only medical advice had been heeded.
We know that vaccinating all eligible adults and children will help protect children still too young to get vaccinated. We know that wearing masks inside school prevents transmission of Covid and worked last year to keep levels of Covid in schools the same as or lower than community rates. (4)
Pediatricians across the country are raising the alarm that without universal masking in schools this year, we will continue to see an exponential rise in pediatric Covid infections that will have devastating consequences.
Pediatricians want our children back in school but we want them back safely. Despite the misinformation circulating about mask-wearing in young children, the good news is that the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have determined that mask-wearing is safe for children. (5) Mask wearing does not cause carbon dioxide poisoning, oxygen deprivation, colonization with deadly bacteria, or weakened immune systems. We understand these parental concerns and continue to work to debunk this troublesome misinformation. (6)
Along with pediatricians and public health experts across the country, we urge parents to vaccinate their vaccine-eligible children against Covid. Speaking from science, we demand that school superintendents and school boards across the country follow the recommendations of the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and local health departments advising that children wear masks inside schools. Our ultimate responsibility is to the children. Their health and well-being are in our hands.
Editor’s note: Dr. Eve Krief and Dr. Sara Siddiqui are pediatricians within the Town of Huntington, as well as Legislative Advocacy Committee Co-Chairs Long Island/Queens/Brooklyn Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The above piece, as well as all pieces that appear with a byline in our “Opinion” section, reflect the opinion of the author only and not necessarily the opinion of the editorial board as a whole.
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