All children over the age of two should wear masks when returning to school this year, even if they are vaccinated, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended, NBC News reported on Monday.
"We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers - and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely," said AAP Council on School Health chair Sonja O’Leary. "Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking, and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone."
The AAP said universal masking is necessary for school staff as well, because much of the student population is not vaccinated, and it is difficult for educational facilities to determine who is as new variants appear that could spread more easily among the young.
The AAP added that making masks mandatory will also protect students and staff from other respiratory illnesses that could keep children out of school.
The AAP’s recommendation contradicts that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which said earlier this month that vaccinated students do not have to wear masks in classrooms.
However, both organizations agree that children under the age of two should not wear masks, because it could pose a suffocation risk for that age group. In addition, babies and toddlers may try to remove masks, actually increasing their chance of catching the virus.
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that AAP's more cautious mask guidance is reasonable.
"When you have a degree of viral dynamics in the community and you have a substantial proportion of the population that is unvaccinated, you really want to go the extra step, the extra mile, to make sure that there is not a lot of transmission, even breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals," Fauci said.
Although Fauci acknowledged that the different recommendations from two nationally respected groups could cause confusion among the public, he noted that the CDC's guidance permits states, cities and other agencies to make their own judgments.
Calling the AAP a thoughtful group, Fauci said that "they analyze the situation, and if they feel that that's the way to go, I think that is a reasonable thing to do."
NBC News reported that the AAP also stressed that all children should get caught up on vaccines they may have missed getting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, such as the flu shot.
"The last thing we want as we come out of this pandemic is an outbreak of another vaccine-preventable disease," O’Leary said. "Now is the time for all of us to work together to keep our kids healthy and safe."
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