Simple interventions in schools could fight COVID-19 spread among unvaccinated kids: microbiologist

Vaccination among the wider community would help slow the spread of COVID-19 in schools until children under 12 become eligible for vaccines, says microbiologist Jason Tetro.

Rapid testing in schools with cases will be key, says Jason Tetro

Microbiologist Jason Tetro said vaccination among the wider community would help slow the spread of COVID-19 in schools until children under 12 become eligible for vaccines. (Carlos Osorio/The Canadian Press)

Canadian adults and teenagers are getting vaccinated for COVID-19, but children under 12 don't have that opportunity yet. 

As children get ready to head back to school, a microbiologist says there are simple interventions that can help keep children safe, until there is a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use with those under 12.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are conducting trials in children under 12 for their vaccines, but it's not known when they could be approved. Data from the trials might not be available until next year or even the year after.

"My own feeling is that it's going to be at the end of September, and that may still be optimistic when you really think about it," said Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author of The Germ Files

It takes some time to conduct the research with children, as immune systems develop over the course of a lifetime, Tetro said in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend.

Schools want to operate as close to normal as possible, but Tetro said there are things they can do to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

That includes bigger pieces like improving infrastructure, but there are smaller steps that can be taken too — windows and doors can be kept open, and fans can be used help circulate air.

Tetro also says schools should reduce class sizes.

"The most important thing is that if there is a positive [COVID-19] case, you can bring in rapid testing to make sure that you can identify quickly anybody who may also be positive," Tetro says.

Then, "you can use the interventions to keep them at home so that you don't necessarily have to close the school."

No herd immunity yet

So far, about 71 per cent of Canada's total population has had one vaccine dose and 61 per cent are fully vaccinated.

But that still means millions haven't had even a first dose and Canada hasn't reached herd immunity, Tetro said. It also means another wave of COVID-19 cases is possible — especially given the spread of the more transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus.

In Saskatchewan, only about half of people between 12 and 30 have been vaccinated, Tetro said.

"That's just not enough. So we got to really bump up those numbers before we really can consider ourselves getting to a point where we're going to get past this particular virus."

Microbiolgist Jason Tetro said there are simple interventions that can be done in schools to help slow the spread of COVID-19. (Submitted by Jason Tetro)

Herd immunity through vaccination would help keep the coronavirus from circulating within the community and therefore reduce how much it spreads in schools. That's key, Tetro said, because school spread can't be controlled by vaccines. 

He doesn't expect, though, to see a wave of cases in children, noting communities have generally been able to identify cases in kids and found ways to help keep them safe over the past 18 months. 

"What I'm hoping for is that as we get to a point where we'll be able to vaccinate our children under the age of 12 — we'll be able to reach an even closer realm to what we call elimination."

While Canadian adolescents and adults have the option to be vaccinated, children under 12 do not yet. Microbiologist and author Jason Tetro joins host Shauna Powers to share some tips on how to keep children safe until a vaccine is approved. 11:14

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend


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