The Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (WCAAP) supports the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) position that universal masking for all teachers, staff and students in K-12 settings and for children over the age of two and staff in childcare settings is the safest and preferred option at this time, regardless of vaccination status, due to the very low rates of COVID-19 vaccination of Washington students ages 5-17 — in particular for 5-11 year-olds, and since children under 5 cannot yet be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The WCAAP shares our Governor’s optimism about today’s decreasing COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. To keep children and teens healthy and ensure that they can remain in school, we want to further highlight critical ways to protect children and students, given child and teen COVID-19 vaccination rates are far lower than for Washington adults, and we encourage families to take this opportunity to protect kids with vaccination. Children under 5 are still unable to be vaccinated, so mask wearing and environmental steps remain critical. We recognize the significant detrimental impact time away from school can have on children and teens and encourage families to continue the safety measures which have helped keep kids in school.
Universal masking has been a crucial layer of protection for our state’s children, as we work to increase vaccination rates in children and teens. There remains significant work to be done: in our state, just 28 percent of 5-11 year-olds have completed their vaccine series and 55 percent of 12-17 year-olds have completed their vaccine series.
There is high variability of vaccine status between Washington State counties and by race and ethnicity of children and teens. For all but three Washington counties, rates of vaccination for 5-11 year-olds are under 25 percent, and in every county except King, less than half of 12-17 year-olds are vaccinated.
Amongst 5-11 year-olds in Washington State, just 23 percent of white children have been fully vaccinated, while just 19 percent of Black children and only 12 percent of Hispanic children have been fully vaccinated. Amongst 12-17 year-olds in Washington, 44 percent of whites have been fully vaccinated, 56 percent of Blacks, and 48 percent of Hispanic children.
Without adequate vaccine coverage in any given school community, masks are a critical layer of protection to keep kids in school. When unvaccinated children and teens have a “close contact” at school, they miss vital classroom time during quarantines. In absence of masking, we anticipate that the rise in quarantines will be exponential for unvaccinated students and children due to “close contacts” with infected peers.
There is clear evidence that time away from school has a terrible impact on children and teens’ physical and emotional well-being as well as their academic attainment. Our goal is for children and teens to remain in-person in school as much as possible. Masking and vaccinating children and teens maximizes time in school and protects children, teens, and their families from infection.
We urge schools, school districts and childcare centers to continue to require universal masking for teachers, staff, students and young children, in the context of today’s low rates of vaccinations for children and teens in most Washington communities.
“Until vaccination coverage for children and teens increases in our state, masking-up at school will maximize children’s time in school and prevent spread of COVID-19 infection,” says Dr. Beth Ebel, MD, FAAP, MsC, MPH, Vice President, Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Today is an ideal time to consider getting your child or teen vaccinated so they can stay healthy, stay in school and in sports, and be with family and friends.”
We urge parents to help their children and teens continue to mask up at school and in childcare centers to provide them an important layer of protection if their child is not vaccinated or if vaccination rates are low for children / teens in their community.
Now is an ideal time for parents and caregivers to choose to vaccinate their children and teens against COVID-19 to provide them the best protection against the disease and to help keep them in school as much as possible. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is approved for children and teens ages 5-17 and more than 20 million children and teens nationwide have now been safely vaccinated and effectively protected against COVID-19. The vaccine has been shown to be safe across people of many races and those with health conditions.
Parents who have questions and concerns about vaccinating their children and teens should reach out to their child’s primary care provider to ask questions and seek further information.
About the WCAAP
The Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has advocated for the health and well-being of Washington’s children and their families since 1934. The WCAAP represents over 1100 pediatric health care providers from across Washington State. We champion the health and well-being of children, adolescents, and families through advocacy, education, and partnership.