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04 Dec, Sunday
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Montreal Families

Pediatricians urge government to reopen schools Jan. 17

Children and teenagers do not have the right to vote, nor a union to defend them. We are writing as pediatricians, as we feel it is our duty to advocate for their physical and mental health. Many of us are concerned about the impact of school closures, for a third consecutive year, on the well-being of our children and adolescents. It is imperative that schools be reopened on Jan. 17.

The education of children is a basic need and must be a priority. It is well documented that the quality of online learning is not comparable to in-person learning, and that learning delays accumulate. The negative effects of school closures, even temporary ones, are numerous and can lead to serious problems within our youth. There are learning challenges, nutritional deficits, increased school drop-outs and more addictions to screens. Online education is associated with many other physical and mental health problems in young people. Currently, certain measures to control the spread of the virus appear to be more harmful to children than the virus itself.

Data suggest closing schools during other waves of the pandemic has been an ineffective strategy. Studies from places where schools have been open since last spring show that while cases of COVID-19 in schools do indeed reflect the level of virus in the community, there are few transmissions in school. In addition, teachers were no more likely than others in the community to have COVID-19.

An increase in hospitalizations in children related to COVID-19 has recently been reported. These hospitalizations represent approximately 50 children across the entire province. The children hospitalized with COVID are usually not very sick, are often admitted for other reasons, and their hospitalization is mostly of a short duration. Recent data show that the risk of hospitalization with the Omicron variant is lower than with the Delta variant, both in children and adults. It is important to note that children regularly acquire viral infections that affect them much more severely than COVID-19.

Furthermore, the fifth wave comes at a time when the vaccination rate among people age 12 and over is 89.6 per cent. The proportion of teachers and vulnerable populations adequately vaccinated is over 95 per cent. Teachers should be reassured of the effectiveness of the vaccine and encouraged to get their third dose. Even with two doses of the vaccine, we have partial protection against infection, but very good protection against severe forms of the virus.

As far as children and their families are concerned, the breaking point has been reached. Holding children hostage by mortgaging their future should not be an option. Premier François Legault should show the public that education is truly a priority by reopening our schools on Jan. 17.

Véronie Charest and Suzanne Vaillancourt are pediatricians.


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