The last thing students want to hear about during the summer is getting ready to go back to school. But school districts are getting ready to bring students back into the classroom for the next year and are figuring out how to do it safely.
Now that students as young as 12 can get a coronavirus vaccine, doctors say parents should get their children vaccinated before they go back to school.
For students to be fully vaccinated before school starts, they only have until about mid-July to get their first shot.
“I have a message for my 12- to 18-year-old,” said Dr. Christopher Ohl with Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
He said he has five reasons for students to get vaccinated this summer. “One is to protect yourself from getting COVID, and no one likes getting sick.”
“Two is to protect the loved ones around you, so when you’re visiting grandma or you have somebody in your household with high risk, help protect them, get vaccinated, form a protective cocoon around them.”
“Three is to be able to do what you want to do,” he said. Being vaccinated makes it easier to play sports, hang out with friends and do social activities.
“Four is just to be a good citizen and get to a level of immunity up in your community so that we get rid of this pandemic.”
“Five is an important one,” Ohl said. “If you get exposed to COVID and you’re unvaccinated, you’re going to be quarantined for at least 10 days. And that’s not fun for anybody.”
That means not going to class at school, not playing sports or going to the movies, and not seeing friends.
“But if you’re vaccinated and you get exposed, then you get taken out of quarantine and you won’t have to do it,” he said.
Getting vaccinated, Ohl said, “is the best way to have a normal and fun life.”
In May, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine for children 12 to 15 years old.
The emergency approval opened up the vaccine to 17 million adolescents. It had already been approved for people 16 and older.
“For vaccination to do its job, we must do our critical part. That means vaccinating as many people as possible who are eligible,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement last month.
“Getting adolescents vaccinated means their faster return to social activities and can provide parents and caregivers peace of mind knowing their family is protected,” Walensky said.
Ohl said students under 12, who can’t get the coronavirus vaccine, should still plan to wear masks inside. But older students who do get vaccinated should be able to get to something closer to a normal school year.
He warned that the new Delta variant seems to be infecting more children and teens, at least according to a recent study from Scotland.
“The Delta variant has a higher risk of hospitalization,” Ohl said. “It’s also more contagious.”
"If you’re unvaccinated, there’s a real good chance you’re going to get this variant," said Dr. Ohl. "Now is the time to do it."
He said in Scotland and England, the Delta variant is affecting 12- to 20-year-olds the most. “It might have something to do with more social activities and such, but a more transmissible virus is going to take advantage of a more socially active population of people.”
He said right now, the Delta variant accounts for about 10% of coronavirus cases in the United States. But he estimates that number could be more like 50% by the time students go back to school in August.
School districts are still trying to work out just how they plan to reopen when the new school year starts, but most students will be back in person.
Ohl said for a 12- to 17-year-old to be fully vaccinated in time for school in North Carolina, they need to get the shot by July 12, just three weeks away.