MANY CHILDREN are now in their third school year of disrupted education and family life. The collective loss and trauma from the Covid-19 pandemic has altered our children’s lives, and the fabric of our society. The recent release of vaccines for children aged 5-11 is giving many families hope that childhood and family life can return to normal.
On March 13, 2020, the United States declared a national emergency as the highly transmissible virus spread rapidly. Shelter-in-place orders altered our daily lives, and the economy. School closures challenged parents of school age children, who struggled to find childcare, and create home learning environments when schools abruptly adopted remote learning. Students from low-income households and rural communities experienced a digital gap, widening existing educational inequities.
In the 2020-2021 school year, schools were required to provide school level Reopening Plans that included in-person instruction, remote instruction or a hybrid model. Schools struggled to provide continuity of learning, meet social and emotional, and nutritional needs. The six Columbia County school districts, private schools, and BOCES had unique plans, and intermittent closures continued as Covid-19 cases rose. Many children dropped out of education all together.
As schools reopened this September, the congregant setting of school classrooms and school buses is still causing Covid-related disrupted education. New York State’s online School COVID Report Card (https://schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov/#) provides real time information. Laboratories report positive or negative Covid data for children aged 5-17 to the state Department of Health. The data is matched to the child’s school district. Every school district is required to report Covid-19 test results for students, teachers and staff for contact tracing. Absenteeism of teachers, staff and students testing positive is still occurring.
Finally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, as vaccines are now available for our younger children. Vaccine availability for children aged 12-17 and the November 2 approval of the vaccine for children aged 5-11, has excited many parents who have been waiting for schools and family life to get back to normal.
The vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective for children, through clinical trials and vaccination rollout. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) research found that vaccinated 12-17 year-olds are ten times less likely to be hospitalized than their unvaccinated peers. In clinical trials with over 3000 5–11 year-olds, the Pfizer vaccine was 90.7% effective. Mild and moderate, temporary reactions were similar to or less common than with older children. There were no serious reactions, including heart issues.
Columbia County’s Department of Health has already received a shipment of Pfizer pediatric vaccine, and is setting up after school vaccination programs for 5-11 year olds with local school districts.
Sadly, many children have already lost loved ones and caregivers to Covid and will experience long- term trauma and grief. One in 500 American children have experienced Covid associated orphanhood or death of a grandparent caregiver. Children’s lives are permanently changed by loss of a mother, father or grandparent who provided their basic needs and care. Loss of a parent is among the adverse childhood experiences linked to mental health problems, shorter schooling, lower self-esteem, sexual risk behaviors and increased risk of substance abuse, suicide, violence, sexual abuse and exploitation.
In Columbia County, 67.7 % of the entire population is vaccinated, and 75.6 % of our 12-and-older population is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. With higher vaccination rates for adults and children, we may finally get to the point where Covid-19 is no longer a pandemic, but would become endemic like the seasonal flu. With that, many children will be spared from life altering losses. Our children have already suffered enough.
Stephanie Sussman is a Columbia County resident, retired deputy school superintendent, and the grandparent of 6 and 10-year-old grandchildren.