All the lessons point to getting students vaxxed

The start of school is around the corner. Unfortunately, it will again begin under the cloud of COVID-19.

Thankfully this year, unlike in 2020, a majority of the population has been vaccinated, a crucial step in limiting the spread and preventing serious and potential deadly cases.

The newly inoculated include many middle school and high school students age 12 and older for whom the Pfizer vaccine was approved. According to Illinois Department of Public Health statistics Wednesday, DuPage County leads the state with almost 65 percent of residents ages 12-17 having received at least one shot of the double-shot vaccine.

That’s good news, but there’s more work to do. To maintain a fully in-person instructional year while also protecting people’s health, we urge all those eligible and medically able to get vaccinated.

In response to the COVID’s highly contagious delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control has updated its guidance to advise universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Full-time in-person learning in the fall is still strongly recommended, but with masking and other now familiar prevention strategies in place.

Last week Gov. Pritzker followed that guidance in issuing a statewide mask mandate for public and private schools in Illinois. While some may chafe under the order, we are relieved that school boards will not be put in the position (again) of navigating the clashing and emotional positions of residents on the matter.

But that layer of protection, while especially important for elementary schools, does not obviate the need for middle and high schoolers to avail themselves of the vaccine.

As the CDC has stated, vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidence suggests that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are less likely to become infected and develop symptoms and are at substantially reduced risk from severe illness and death from COVID-19 compared with unvaccinated people.

“Only a small proportion of fully vaccinated people get infected (breakthrough infections), even with the delta variant,” reads the CDC guidance on its website, while noting that fully vaccinated people who are infected with the delta variant can be infectious and can spread the virus to others. “To reduce the risk of becoming infected with the delta variant and spreading it to others, students, teachers and school staff should continue to use layered prevention strategies including universal masking in schools.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics echoes that recommendation.

“Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority,” the AAP states on its website. “Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.”

Lets trust the science and the experts to protect our students, our school communities and our families and to support in-person learning.