What do looser school mask and vaccine requirements mean for black teachers and students?
By Maya Pottiger | word in black
According to scientists, the best way to protect yourself against the new coronavirus is to get fully vaccinated – initial doses along with a booster shot. All FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be both safe and effective, and they significantly reduce your risk of contracting, spreading, and being hospitalized from COVID-19. For more information, visit the Centers for Disaster Control and Preventionand talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.
(WIB) – As COVID-19 hospitalizations and infections continue to decline, school districts across the country are easing mask requirements. Georgia on March 25 went so far as to formally ban masks in public schools. But what does this mean for black teachers and black students, who have far lower vaccination rates than their peers?
“That remains to be seen,” says Dr. Hugh Mighty, dean of Howard University’s College of Medicine.
“The real question is, as we lift mask mandates, what does that mean for kids in general – and certainly for black kids – if we don’t also push vaccines and increase vaccination rate? Mighty said. “Obviously anyone who is not vaccinated has a higher risk of becoming infected.”
Fortunately, what was true in the adult world didn’t happen in children, says Mighty. Although we have seen a big discrepancy between how the virus affects adults, the same is not true for children. Part of that is because the kids don’t have any chronic or underlying health conditions, Mighty says.
Black children have significantly lower vaccination rates – but the real number is hard to track
While the Centers for Disease Control and state health departments all keep rigorous data on infections, hospitalizations and vaccinations, key pieces of data are missing. For one thing, only a few states offer breakdowns of vaccination status by both age and race/ethnicity. This is a key measure that would help federal and state governments address pandemic inequality.
Without extensive tracking, “it’s hard for us to tell if a strategy is working or not,” says Mighty. He cited the switch from the Delta variant to the Omicron variant as one way in which detailed tracking showed a new pattern. “Because we were testing and because we were following people, we were able to literally say, hey, something is changing. If you don’t follow that, you don’t have real time information.
To get a sense of how vaccination rates for black children compare to their peers, Word In Black identified five states that break down vaccination status by age and race/ethnicity: Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota , West Virginia and District of Columbia. The age groups were 5-11, 12-15, and 16+.
The analysis revealed that all other races/ethnicities were at least twice as likely to be vaccinated as their black peers. In the 5-11 age group, an average of 14% of black students were vaccinated, compared to 40% of Asian students and 45% of white students. In the 12-15 age group, an average of 34% of black students are vaccinated, compared to 66% of white students and 70% of Hispanic students. And for those 16 and older, an average of 27% of black students are vaccinated, compared to 63% of white students and 83% of Hispanic students.
“You’re part of a group that’s definitely driven by parental considerations,” says Mighty. “One thing you will find is that if there is a lower group of vaccinated parents, their children are less likely to be vaccinated.”
Ongoing vaccine hesitancy leads to lower vaccination rates
In addition to barriers to vaccine access from coast to coast, there has been a lot of vaccine hesitancy among black Americans. A Census Bureau survey found that possible side effects were the top reason black adults didn’t want to get vaccinated. And when it came to why parents didn’t vaccinate their children, the top reasons were the cost of the vaccine, the parent or guardian usually didn’t vaccinate their children, and believing that other people had a higher need.
The COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone and no health insurance is required.
So you mean as a nurse I can continue to wear full PPE when caring for covid patients while my 10 year old daughter and her friends sit in a crowded classroom WITHOUT A MASK , with potentially covid positive students and staff? How is this basic common sense so difficult to grasp? How?— Birgit Umaigba RN, MEd (@birgitomo) March 18, 2022
Hesitation aside, Mighty says there hasn’t been as much effort to get younger populations vaccinated.
“Statistically, this group of young people was the least affected in terms of percentage,” says Mighty. “Especially when you get to the [under] 12 – in this age group 7.8, 9.10 – less were reported as dying from this or having serious effects from this. So the risks and benefits, if you weigh in as a parent, might be different.
What happens now?
With the removal of masks, what should we expect to see in classrooms for the remainder of the school year? Mighty says it’s not about hesitation, but about understanding the risk and prevalence of the virus in your area. The best thing to do is to look at the numbers in your area to be better informed about your risk, then make a decision.
“The virus has not changed. He is always there. It will still infect you,” says Mighty. “When you take off the mask, you are always at risk.”
There is no single answer. Although the percentage of severely affected children is and always has been lower than that of adults, we should still expect to see an increase in the number of people infected, says Mighty. And if you are not vaccinated, your risk is higher.
“As our children are the lowest percentage of vaccinated at all levels, then they will be most at risk,” says Mighty.
“Because it’s endemic, it will never be zero risk,” says Mighty. “The virus is not going to pack up and go home.”
Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaboration of 10 black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.