As parents prepare to send their children back to school, there remains confusion about how to send them back safely with the COVID-19 pandemic still a part of everyday life. Though vaccines have been available, many parents have yet to get themselves vaccinated, much less their children. Experts say the best thing to add to your back-to-school list is a vaccine. Currently, children 12 years or older can be vaccinated.
Ron Cook, D.O., Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) chief health officer and chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, said that while the vaccines aren’t perfect, they have proven to be safe and effective. For instance, the Pfizer and Moderna are approximately 95% effective at preventing or significantly reducing the impact of early COVID-19 variants. And though the effectiveness does drop off to approximately 88% for the delta variant, Cook said the vaccine remains the best tool in preventing serious illness or death.
“Soon we'll see that Pfizer is going to lower their age group for children down so that five- or six-year old children can be vaccinated, but right now age 12 and up is approved for vaccination, so if your child is eligible, we strongly encourage you to get that child vaccinated.”
Until children under the age of 12 are approved for the vaccine, Cook said parents should rely on the mitigation efforts that already have proven effective at slowing or halting the virus spread:
- Have the child wear a mask.
- Though difficult with small children, practice social distancing whenever possible.
- Teach your child how to use proper handwashing techniques.
- Teach your child how to keep their desk or workspace as clean as possible.
Cook said that if a child gets sick then their parent is going to have to take time off from work to take care of that child. And if that parent hasn't been vaccinated, they're more susceptible to contracting the disease and then passing it on to other family members or people outside the home.
“That cascade just continues, and unfortunately we've seen whole families come down with this, especially in the unvaccinated,” Cook said. “We've seen lots of families have very serious disease and they picked it up from their children.”
Like the rest of the country, Cook said the Lubbock area has seen breakthrough cases where fully vaccinated individuals still contract COVID-19. However, no person in the area that has been fully vaccinated has had a serious case of the disease.
“That means you might be able to get it, and we've seen some individuals come down with COVID-19 that were fully vaccinated, but 99% of them do not go to the hospital and none of them in our region have died. There also have been a few area cases where fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized with breakthrough infections, but all of them have gone home; none of them have had serious disease issues and none have died.”
Reports also have surfaced of some rare cases where the person was severely immunocompromised and their vaccine just didn't take well or it wore off. Because the patient didn't have a good response, they got a secondary infection after their vaccination. Cook said those cases are very rare and none have occurred in the Lubbock area.
“That's the best news about getting vaccinated,” Cook emphasized. “Number one, if it's the alpha variant, you’re probably not going to get infected. Number two, if it happens to be the delta variant, you have a 0.4% chance of being hospitalized from COVID-19 if you have been fully vaccinated. That's fantastic news. Nobody has time to be sick, so get your vaccine.”