In examining the health risk for school age children from COVID-19 several issues are noted. Approximately 4,000 to 5,000 children have been infected with COVID-19. Despite this, the overall mortality risk for school age children from COVID-19 is minimal. As of July 29th, the CDC has reported 42 deaths from COVID-19 in children less than 14 year of age. Fourteen of these were in children less than a year old. Even increasing the age cut off to 24 years identifies only another 149 deaths from COVID-19.
Thus, the overall morality rate from COVID-19 is exceedingly low in school aged children. The percent of deaths from COVID-19 in this age group is 1.0% or less, and is far exceeded by unintentional injuries, suicide, homicide and cancer.
Looking at overall death rates from COVID-19, again those over 65 years of age are overrepresented. Therefore, there is risk in schools from COVID-19, but it is almost entirely to the staff, not the children.
The major health risk to school aged children is not from COVID-19. It is from the lack of standard, childhood vaccines.The start of school is one of the triggers for most children to be vaccinated. Schools often require documentation of standard vaccine regiments before students are allowed to attend. This won’t happen if schools fail to open due the COVID-19. In addition, many students have been receiving care through virtual or telehealth visits, where vaccines cannot be administered.
We already had measles outbreaks before COVID-19 due to individuals refusing to have their children vaccinated. To have an entire cohort of children not vaccinated is a potential disaster. To understand the enormity of this problem, one needs to look at measles, mumps, and rubella infections in the US before the MMR vaccine was universally introduced.
In the decade before the measles vaccine became available, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age. It is estimated 3 to 4 million people in the United States were infected each year. Also, each year an estimated 400 to 500 children died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 suffered encephalitis (swelling of the brain) from measles.
Before the rubella vaccination, rubella was a common and widespread infection in the United States. During the last major rubella epidemic in the United States from 1964 to 1965, an estimated 12.5 million people got rubella, 11,000 pregnant women lost their babies, 2,100 newborns died, and 20,000 babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).
This does not even include diseases prevented by other vaccines such as diphtheria (which killed 15,000 children a year before the vaccine), pertussis and pneumococcal meningitis. These diseases will kill many times the number of children infected with COVID-19.
Therefore, if we truly want to protect the health of school age children in the era of COVID-19, we should first address how they will get their standard childhood vaccines at a normal frequency before we focus on whether schools should open. This time bomb of inadequate vaccinations is being horribly overlooked in the debate about childhood safety and COVID-19 .