This month marks one year since schools around the country closed classrooms and moved instruction online. In many communities, children continue to learn from home or attend school only one or two days a week. Many families want to know what to expect for the fall. Classroom learning might look a little different than it did before the pandemic, but expect a closer return to normal classrooms, sports and clubs by September.
By sometime in April, most adults will be able to get a vaccine appointment regardless of age, occupation or medical history. This means that educators and older relatives at home—who are more vulnerable than children to severe disease—will be able to get vaccinated long before fall.
A primary argument for closing schools is to reduce community spread. Schools can amplify disease, as kids may be more likely to catch and spread an infection than adults. A lot of this thinking is inference based on flu, though it’s now clear the pathogens behave differently.
Widespread vaccination will reduce community transmission to more manageable levels and reduce exposure for those who can’t or won’t get vaccinated. Covid may become seasonal, though epidemic waves will be much less likely, assuming that treatments and vaccines can keep up with new mutations. The early evidence is that the vaccines also reduce the likelihood that vaccinated people can become asymptomatic carriers and spread the infection. If that is borne out in later studies, widespread vaccination will mean that many, if not most, people are viral dead ends, unable to spread the disease to others.
But no vaccine has been authorized for children under 18, and only the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for 16- and 17-year-olds. Clinical trials collecting data on children 12 to 17 are under way for all vaccines and should start to produce results in the coming months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should encourage larger trials now if the agency thinks those will be needed to recommend vaccination in children. Most children won’t be able to be vaccinated by fall, but it will be important to get kids vaccinated eventually, especially if Covid worsens.