President Biden on March 2 announced a goal of administering at least one vaccine to every educator in the United States by the end of the month. The head of the American Federation of Teachers praised the announcement, saying, “vaccinations are a key ingredient to reopening schools safely.”
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But that’s not true.
A vast and growing body of scientific data show that schools are not major sources of COVID-19 transmission and that neither students nor teachers are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus in school buildings.
We listed many of these studies when we wrote about this issue in January. In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance for safely reopening schools. That guidance listed three essential elements of safe reopening. Teacher vaccination was not on the list. It was included in a second list of suggestions for “additional layers” of prevention.
The New York Times summarized the CDC guidance this way:
“With proper mitigation, such as masking, physical distancing and hygiene, elementary schools can operate in person at any level of community virus transmission, the guidelines state.
“The document says that middle and high schools can safely operate in person at all but the highest level of transmission, which is defined in two ways: when 10 percent or more of the coronavirus tests in a community come back positive over a seven-day period; or when there are 100 or more virus cases per 100,000 people in the community over seven days.
“Middle and high schools may open at any level of community spread if they conduct weekly coronavirus testing of students and staff members.”
The reason vaccination is not on the list of essential reopening elements is because 1) transmission in schools has proven to be very low, and 2) teachers as a group are not at high risk of infection.
As we pointed out in January:
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration puts school personnel in its medium exposure risk category.
A British Medical Journal study of occupational risk by sector found that workers in the education sector had much lower risk of COVID-19 exposure than health care, medical support, and social care workers, and slightly lower risk than transportation workers. It should be noted that British public schools have mostly been open, unlike American public schools.
“Teachers had no or only a moderately increased odds of COVID-19,” a Norwegian study of COVID-19 risk by occupation, published in November, found.
A European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control review of workplace COVID clusters and outbreaks found teachers at low risk, with few incidents at schools.
An occupational risk tool designed by the Vancouver School of Economics put Canada’s education sector in the medium risk category for COVID-19 exposure.
The evidence is so overwhelmingly in favor of school reopening that epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, doctors, and medical professors have been pointedly and urgently insisting that schools should reopen.
They’ve even begun to publicly criticize teachers’ unions and politicians for ignoring the science in an effort to keep schools closed.
Benjamin Linas, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine, wrote in Vox in February that he’s “losing patience with our teachers’ unions.”
Frustrated by the politicization of school openings, he wrote that “if educators and their unions don’t embrace the established science, they risk continuing to widen gaps in educational attainment — and losing the support of their many long-time allies, like me.”
On the same day President Biden announced that he would push for teacher vaccinations, The New York Times published quotes from a survey it conducted of 175 health experts regarding school openings.
“Over all, they said that data suggests that with precautions, particularly masks, the risk of in-school transmission is low for both children and adults,” the Times reported.
Among the quotes:
“We need to rely on science and not emotions to make these decisions. Expert guidance can get our children back to school safely. Keeping them out of school will result in irreparable harm to their education, particularly for minority children and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.”
— Archana Chatterjee, Dean, Chicago Medical School
“I wish that school reopening wasn’t subject to such politicization and fear, and that decisions could be made based on data and facts. Data would suggest that children, particularly younger children, can safely go to school, and that neither the children nor the teachers are at particularly higher risk.”
— Anne Blaschke, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases, University of Utah
“This issue has been politicized, and the unions have inappropriately focused on fear and misinformation. San Francisco public schools could have been successfully reopened in August had the district, unions and others come together to support children.”
— Kim Newell Green, Pediatrician; Associate Clinical Professor, University of California, San Francisco
In Canada, the UK, Michigan, Southern California, Northern California, Colorado, and the United States as a whole, doctors have urged governments to reopen schools. The World Health Organization declared back in December that “schools can reopen safely.”
Yet it’s March and many students remain stuck in remote instruction for at least a portion of their school week.
All of New Hampshire’s neighboring states have moved teachers up the priority list for vaccinations, and there is some mild political pressure from the far left for Gov. Chris Sununu to do the same. This week, he refused, and stuck to his program to prioritize vaccines for the elderly and most vulnerable.
Sununu’s position is quite obviously the correct one, as it’s the only one focused on protecting the most vulnerable residents first, and the only one backed by the overwhelming consensus of medical science.
No major health organization has concluded that school personnel or students must be vaccinated before schools can open safely. No study has found that school personnel or students are at high risk of infection in schools. No study has found high rates of COVID-19 transmission in schools.
The CDC recommendation that teachers be put into Phase 1b is not backed by any research showing teachers to be at high risk, and it contradicts the CDC’s February guidance that teacher vaccinations are not an essential element of reopening. The placement in Phase 1b is not based on risk, but purely on the classification of all educational personnel as “essential workers.”
Of course, it goes without saying that educational personnel who are age 65 or older, or who qualify for vaccination because of underlying health conditions, are vaccine eligible already based on their risk.
There is overwhelming agreement in the medical community that schools can reopen safely with basic mitigation protocols in place, and that vaccinations for returning staff and students are not a necessary precondition for reopening.
The medical debate is over, and has been for a while. All that lingers is a political debate that becomes further detached from reality with every passing week.