COVID-19 and school: Canada-wide townhall to address parent, teacher, student concerns

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As the start of school approaches, decisions are being made and with the consequences of these decisions — to send children back into the classroom or not, many parents, students, guardians and school staff may be nursing apprehensions.

With information, sometimes contradictory, being moved across various media platforms, choices are becoming more and more difficult to make.  Who to trust, what information is accurate, what is proven, and what is safest for the kids at the heart of this debate–all important questions and needing credible responses are not being answered in as timely a fashion as would be hoped.

In an an effort to battle misinformation around COVID-19 when it comes to back-to-school, a team called ‘Science Up First’ is stepping up, in the hopes of providing some measure of relief by way of providing some answers through an open dialogue.

‘Science Up First,’ which is made up of a group of independent scientists and healthcare researchers, is giving parents, students, and teachers across Canada a chance to air concerns and ask questions Tuesday through a national townhall focused on back-to-school safety.

This expert panel includes Dr. Yanet Valdez, an immunologist from UBC, who is a mother herself. She says one of the biggest concerns she’s hearing from parents is about the safety of kids too young to be vaccinated against COVID at the moment.

Valdez says it’s true the coronavirus typically has less of an impact on kids, but they can still carry it and pass it on to others.

“But there’s a second component of that, which is now the Delta variant. The Delta variant is more aggressive, the variant could infect kids. Also, the viral load in people, it’s higher,” she explained.

She says we are at a critical point in which we need to take care of our young population, and we need to vaccinate everyone who qualifies to limit the spread of the variant.

Currently, people 12 years and older in Canada are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Children as young as 11 can also qualify for a shot, if they are born in 2009. While trials continue in children younger than 12, no vaccine has been approved for people in that younger age group.

Valdez says a lot can be learned from what’s happening in the U.S., where many students have already returned to school. She says the rate of infection is quite similar to other viruses that have spread in the world in previous years.

“The COVID Delta variant has an R0 of eight — so one person could infect eight people. And some teachers in the States, in some classes, there were cases in which they could infect some kids. And the kids could get really sick too — so it’s not like they don’t get sick. There is a variety of symptoms,” she told a media outlet.

Valdez explains the townhall will give people a chance to ask questions and clear up any misinformation around COVID-19 and schools.

“Our quest (Tuesday) will be answering questions about the vaccine and vaccine hesitancy, safety, and any questions that the kids, the parents, the teachers will have. We’re open to discuss all these questions with the public,” she said.  “What we’re trying to do is bring the best, available science, in different ways, in creative ways. We want to stop the spread of misinformation, so that’s the main goal,” Valdez said of Science Up First and its events.

As a parent herself, she says she can relate with others in keeping children’s safety and health is top of mind. She stresses the vaccine is safe, and that people should trust the science.

Valdez adds if scientists say the vaccine is safe, it’s because they have the data to back it up through various, rigorous trials.  “In which they show effectiveness and safety.”

Currently, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approved for emergency use in children as young as 12 in Canada.

“The vaccine is safe, the vaccine is effective, the vaccine saves lives — that’s what we need to know and tell parents as well,” Valdez said.

In addition to Valdez, the expert panel will feature Dr. David Goldfarb, a medical microbiologist at BC Children’s Hospital, Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, a registered psychologist at The Wishing Star Developmental Clinic, and Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joe’s Hamilton.

You can register for the #TakeScience Townhall online. It takes place tonight, Tuesday, August 31st at 5 p.m. PDT/8 p.m. EDT.

–with files from 680news.com