Childhood vaccination rates must increase before school mask rules are dropped, LI experts say

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Some Long Island medical experts say if Gov. Kathy Hochul is to safely lift the mask mandate for schools, a much higher percentage of children need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — especially those ages 5 to 11 years old.

And some say that will only happen if children are required to get vaccinated to go to school.

“The only way to protect your children without these masks is really to get them vaccinated,” said Dr. Mundeep Kainth, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

“The next thing the governor should do, the day she tells schools they don’t have to wear masks, is mandate a COVID vaccine for all kids in school,” Kainth said.

Hochul said she would make a decision on school masks most likely in the first week of March after many students return from winter vacation on February 28.

Appearing on MSNBC in December, she said a vaccine mandate for all eligible school children is “absolutely something we are seriously considering” but would require legislative action.

She’s under pressure from some parents who want masks gone, and the example of neighboring counterparts such as Gov. Phil Murphy, who announced New Jersey would end its school mask mandate on March 7.

That could be premature, some medical experts say, unless vaccination rates rise dramatically — and quickly.

About 70% of New York State‘s 12-17 year olds are fully immunized, which infectious disease experts say is a good start toward the goal of a rate closer to 90% and above . The figure on Long Island is around 69%.

The rate for children ages 5 to 11 is much lower – only about 32% are fully immunized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figure on Long Island is about 28%.

Children under five are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

What there is to know

  • Some medical experts say a much higher percentage of children, especially ages 5 to 11, need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for Governor Kathy Hochul to safely lift the mask mandate for schools.
  • Experts believe that will not happen until the governor orders vaccines for schoolchildren in the same way that measles and chickenpox vaccines are required.
  • Only about 32% of children ages 5 to 11 in New York state are vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the CDC.

Hochul said Tuesday that she will consider vaccination rates when deciding whether to lift the school mask mandate, as well as weigh positivity levels and other factors.

She added that “there is no magic number” that would cause her to drop the mandate.

State health officials, asked on Tuesday whether Hochul planned to require COVID-19 vaccinations for children, referenced comments she made in December saying lawmakers would have to approve it as well. .

“So it couldn’t happen right now, it should happen next fall,” Hochul said at the time. “So that’s absolutely something we’re looking at.”

Dr Sharon Nachman, chief of the pediatric infectious disease division at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, agreed that more children, especially younger ones, need to be vaccinated before the mask mandate can be dropped in completely safe.

“My worry is that when we go to unmask in schools, we’ll see a second wave of kids who haven’t had COVID yet,” Nachman said, adding that “prevention is key. Therefore, getting vaccinating before that happens will be very important.”

Given current vaccine levels for children ages 5 to 11, Nachman said she thinks it’s unlikely it’s safe or advisable to drop the mask mandate in March.

NormaDeane Armstrong, a professor of epidemiology at Molloy College, agreed it was too early to lift the mandate due to low vaccination rates among young children.

“You’re not that sure,” she said. Vaccination levels must be at least 80%, she said, and positivity levels must be low and stable for several weeks before dropping the mandate.

Kainth said that even though positivity levels and case numbers are relatively low, it is still imperative that more children are vaccinated because they can become seriously ill and hospitalized if infected with the virus. And that may require making injections mandatory, given that some parents are resisting, she said.

“We know parents who are hesitant to get vaccinated won’t come forward and do it unless you force your hand and say, ‘Hey, you know, your kid won’t be able to go to school at unless you do. vaccinated,” she said.

Doctors say a small but growing number of children are becoming infected with MIS-C, or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, several weeks after contracting COVID-19.

The condition causes parts of the body to become inflamed, potentially including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs, according to the CDC.

Armstrong said if COVID-19 shots were mandatory for schoolchildren, the vaccine would simply be added to the list of others needed, including against measles, chickenpox and other illnesses.

If a COVID-19 vaccine is added to the required vaccination list by next fall, Nachman said she wouldn’t be surprised. “We want to protect our children,” she said.

Medical experts said other factors also play into the decision of whether and when to lift the mask mandate.

DAILY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 3.7%

Suffolk: 3.5%

Statewide: 3.27%

7-DAY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 3.5%

Suffolk: 3.2%

Statewide: 2.98%

Source: New York State Department of Health

A future development to watch, Nachman said, is whether case numbers and positivity levels rise after Hochul lifted the mask or vaccine requirement for indoor public places, including stores, on Thursday. restaurants, gymnasiums and theatres.

Ideally, the seven-day level of positivity should be 1% or less, Nachman said. Currently it is about 3.5% on Long Island.

She said there are no absolute numbers to stick to, but rather a “bigger” scenario involving many factors.

“So are a third of families adequately protected? Clearly not,” Nachman said. If 100% of children were vaccinated, it would be great, “but it’s not realistic”.

Medical experts have said allowing high schools and colleges to drop the mask mandate, but keeping it in elementary schools due to different vaccination levels, probably won’t work, in part because many families have children. in different age groups.

The latest COVID-19 indicators released on Tuesday showed a continued downward trend after hitting record highs during the omicron surge.

Long Island had 321 new daily confirmed cases and a seven-day average positivity of 3.33%

Across the state, 66 people including three in Nassau and two in Suffolk died of virus-related causes on Monday.

With Matt Clark

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