A group of 55 doctors, public health experts, and academics have written to Chief Ministers, Governors of all States and Union Territories as well as to the Centre to reopen schools for children in 6 months - 17 years age group, without waiting for the COVID-19 vaccination to be administered.
As education and health both fall under State subjects, the group has written an open letter to the States and Union Territories, reached out to the Union Ministers of Education and Health and the National Disaster Management Authority to chart a plan to get children back to school as there is no proof that they are more susceptible to SARS-CoV-2.
Citing that the lack of physical exposure to a classroom setting is hindering the growth of children, the experts opine that barring the children living with co-morbidities or those having family members that are infected by the virus, other children should be allowed to return to schools provided social distancing and masking measures are in place.
Their narrative for children to return to school without vaccination is further supported by the findings of the fourth national sero-survey that showed that children were also equally exposed to the virus and were not at higher risk. From the kids surveyed, over 58 per cent children in the age group 6-9, and close to 62-per cent in the age group 10-17 were found to have COVID-19 antibodies. Thus proving, that children were also exposed to the virus but there were lesser chances of them being severely infected.
A national committee even recommended the NDMA to make a list of children with co-morbidities, disabilities, or special needs and vaccinate them.
The letter further states that 100 per cent vaccination for teaching and non-teaching staff also should not be a pre-requisite to reopen schools. Furthermore, even though schools reopen, attending school physically should remain optional instead of making it a mandate. It also adds that schools are not super-spreaders for the virus.
Elaborating on the fact that India is one of only four-five countries that have not reopened schools in the last year and a half, the signees propose a phase-wise reopening of schools. They suggest that "since younger children are at lesser risk, pre-primary and primary schools should open first followed by secondary and then eventually for students in the classes 9-12th." As the Zydus Cadila COVID-19 vaccine will be available for children between 12-18 years of age, this age group can get at least one shot and attend schools.
This group also emphasises the need for improvement in school as well as health infrastructure to avoid any untoward incidences if they arise in the school premises. They also stress on following public health social measures such as masking, washing hands, and maintaining social distancing.
Even if there are a few positive cases, the letter adds that completely closing down schools should be a last resort. Israel and US shut down schools only because other public health social measures apart from vaccination were not followed in those specific schools.
The letter pushes for reopening of schools in non-containment zones by also highlighting that the "UNICEF and other nodal health agencies have stated that in times of a pandemic, schools should be the last to close and the first to open." However, currently in India, while accessibility to other public places has been approved, schools continue to remain shut.