The rapidly spreading Delta variant spells trouble ahead for K-12 students

As schools prepare to open this fall, a new threat looms for schools
By: | June 22, 2021
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The vast majority of new COVID cases in children aged 12-15 are the Delta variant, according to experts. The reason? “Because vaccines have not been as available to kids under 16 for as long as they have been for older teens and adults,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CNBC Monday. “I think we’re going to see that children and schools do become more of a focal point of spread in the fall.”

New research analysis posted June 21st indicates that Delta, which is believed to be more transmissible and causes more severe symptoms than other COVID strains, already accounts for at least 14% of new infections out of more than 242,000 infections nationwide. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky stated last week that she expects the variant to become the dominant coronavirus strain in the U.S. First detected in India, it has already become the dominant strain throughout Great Britain and is spreading rapidly across continental Europe, with hot spots in Africa and Asia. While it’s more infectious than other variants of the coronavirus, fully vaccinated people still appear to be well protected against getting sick.

The news comes just a little more than a month after the FDA cleared the Pfizer vaccine for use in children aged 12-15, while Moderna has asked the FDA to expand its emergency use authorization to cover kids aged 12-17. Pfizer’s Emergency Use Authorization initially covered kids aged 16 and older while Moderna’s is available to those 18 and up. However, Gottlieb said growing evidence around the Delta variant’s risk to the unvaccinated population is unlikely to dramatically change how the FDA approaches clearing COVID shots for minors, since that is already a priority.

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Still, White House vaccinations coordinator Dr. Bechara Choucair told Austin news channel KXAN that the necessary federal entities “won’t approve the use of vaccines in younger children until possibly the end of the year or early 2022.”

Choucair went on to add that studies being conducted for Pfizer, Moderna and others are being tracked by the White House and reviewed by the FDA and the CDC. “Once we get the result of those trials, when we start seeing the data and they get evaluated by our scientists and HHS, then we know we’ll be able to have vaccines available for younger than 12 years of age.”

Across the country, school systems are on alert as to what the Delta strain’s effect on schools will be and how they will address it. In Connecticut, state officials are tracking the presence of the Delta variant ahead of the start of the 2021-22 school year to see what it might mean for the state. “We’re keeping a close eye on what’s happening in schools, and we understand that people are very anxious for guidance and information about the fall,” said Acting Department of Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford, who added that masking guidance would be based on CDC recommendations.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, however, remains resolute about students returning to in-person learning in the fall, regardless of students’ vaccination status, and has mandated that all schools provide in-person, full-time instruction, with no remote learning option available.

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