The White House released Tuesday details of a plan to vaccinate children for the coronavirus, but said that mask mandates should remain in place in schools across the country.
President Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force leader Jeffrey Zients detailed plans to get 28 million children, ages 5-11, vaccinated as quickly as possible, pending a decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to approve the vaccine for children under 12.
The decision from federal health officials on the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11 is expected at the end of the month.
“I think the best practice here is to plan ahead so we can hit the ground running,” Zients told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday morning.
But CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters that mask mandates should continue in schools even as the vaccination effort ramped up for children.
“It will take time as I just noted as we head into these winter months, we know we cannot be complacent,” she said, when asked about whether vaccines for children would allow schools to lift mask mandates.
Walensky cited data showing that schools with mask mandates were three and a half times less likely to have major outbreaks requiring schools to close.
“Right now we are going to continue to recommend masks in all schools for all people in those schools and we will look forward to scaling up pediatric vaccination in this period of time,” she said.
Zients noted that public schools already required some vaccine mandates for children, but indicated it would be left up to state and local officials to level mandates for the coronavirus vaccine.
Dr. Anthony Fauci argued the importance of getting children vaccinated, citing a recent study on the Delta variant of the virus.
“In the era of Delta, children get infected as readily as adults do and transmit the infection as readily as adults do,” he warned.
Fauci called for the majority of children to get vaccinated, even though many of them are asymptomatic and do not face a major health risk from the virus.
“If we can get the overwhelming majority of those 28 million children vaccinated, I think that would play a major role in diminishing the spread of infection in the community,” he said.
Sharing a slide highlighting the effectiveness of vaccines fighting diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, and smallpox, Fauci indicated the coronavirus would have a similar effect if more people got vaccinated.
He noted disapprovingly that 66 million eligible people in America were not vaccinated from the virus.
“You’ve seen in the slides I showed, the extraordinary historical impact of vaccine,” he said. “It is not too late, so please, please get vaccinated.”