The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that schools require all students and staff members to wear masks when they return to in-person learning this fall.
The organization said that wearing masks is still necessary because a large number of students are not eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine. Currently, none of the available vaccines are authorized for use in people under the age of 12. The Food and Drug Administration is not expected to make a decision on whether young children can be vaccinated until after the school year starts.
While the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for use in adolescents over the age of 12, many schools do not have a system to track who has been vaccinated. Without a system in place, schools will have a difficult time enforcing the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that only unvaccinated individuals need to wear masks.
“There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated,” said Sara Bode, MD, FAAP, chair-person elect of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee. “This is why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children from COVID-19. Universal masking is one of those tools and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases, as well. It’s also the most effective strategy to create consistent messages and expectations among students without the added burden of needing to monitor everyone’s vaccination status.”
Dr. Sonja O’Leary, who chairs the AAP Council on School Health, said that taking the necessary precautions is the only way to ensure schools can remain open in the fall.
“We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers -- and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely,” O’Leary said. “The pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on children, and it’s not just their education that has suffered but their mental, emotional and physical health. Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking, and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone.”
The AAP reported that as of July 14, 8.8 million children under age 18 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 6.8 million are fully vaccinated.