As states open schools, COVID vaccines, separation issues emerge as twin challenges for hesistant parents

·5 min read

With the second wave of COVID-19 waning across India, several states have either resumed schools partilally or are set to reopen starting next month.

Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar have partially reopened schools in July while Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh are set to reopen schools in the first week of August.

Though the decision to reopen schools should cheer parents, a new study has shown that most parents in India are hesitant in allowing their children resume in-person learning at schools.

The survey which involved over 32,000 parents across 361 districts in India found that nearly 48 percent parents are not willing to send their children to schools till they are vaccinated against the novel coronavirus infection.

Though a majority of parents want their children to get back to schools, 30 percent of the parents surveyed said that they would be willing to do so only if the coronavirus cases in their districts come down to zero, said the survey by an online platform, Local Circles.

In contrast, at least 21 percent of parents said that they are ready to send their wards whenever the schools reopen.

With a probable third wave of COVID-19 expected to hit India soon, the survey findings have highlighted how vaccinating children will be crucial in restarting schools soon.

Why vaccinating children is crucial?

First and foremost, children are the future of the nation. And it's the responsibility of both parents and the government to keep them safe from the viral disease.

Secondly, as a study published in the Lancet journal recently pointed out "living with 11-17 year olds increases the risk of infection by 18-30 percent".

Given that the probable third wave of the COVID-19 is expected to hit India anytime soon, vaccinating children early can also help contain the spread of the virus.

Where does India stand in vaccines for children?

The survey findings are also important as they come amid the Central Government reportedly planning to begin vaccinating children from next month. Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya had on Tuesday told BJP MPs during a party parliamentary meet that COVID-19 vaccination for children was likely to start in August.

While Mandaviya's remarks might assure some parents anxious about the future of their children as well as experts who see immunity among children a crucial factor in breaking the chain of transmission, the Union health minister's new timeline raises a question: when will vaccines for children become available in India?

While India has allowed all vaccines okayed by the WHO, not much progress has been made in importing (or manufacturing in India) the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines which have been okayed abroad for usage on children.

The US FDA authorised the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 years old in May this year while the European medicines watchdog approved the use of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for children aged 12 to 17 last week.

In the absence of Modern and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, India is left with only two options: ZyCoV-D by Zydus Cadila and COVAXIN by Bharat Biotech.

While Zydus Cadila has completed testing its COVID-19 vaccine candidate on children, and is expecting emergency usage authorisation, Bharat Biotech results are expected only by September.

In order to start vaccinating children by August, either the emergency authorisation of the ZyCoV-D vaccine will have to be brought forward along with that of the Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN or the Centre will have to expedite the import of Pfizer-BioNTech and Modern vaccines. Given the tussle over the "indemnity clause" the latter seems difficulat at this moment.

As for COVAXIN, given the existing shortage of the vaccine diverting doses to children is likely to further impact the vaccine's availability for adults. What this means is that the pace of vaccination for children in India will depend entirely Zydus Cadila's ability to deliver ZyCoV-D vaccine on time and the EUA approval for its candidate by ICMR.

The Ahmedabad-based company had last said earlier this month that expects to "produce 1 crore vaccine doses per month from August onwards and 5 crore doses by December this year".

Preparing for school

Even if the vaccination for children isue is resolved, just as adjusting to lockdown brought a set of its own issues for families, reopening of schools is likely going to be just as challenging.

A research paper published in the Behav Anal Pract journal published by the Association for Behaviour and Analysis International said that "one of the hardest decisions parents are making is determining when is the right time for their children to return to the classroom".

And this is not just about the vaccine. According to the research paper, the dependencies and attachments which have developed between parents and children during the extensive lockdown period are likely to bring their own set of "separation" issues when schools reopen.

What this means is: children's protests and cries may increase, as well as the period may see an increase in their anxiety levels.

The writers recommended steps that parents can take to deal with the situation such as listening carefully to the children, planning in advance, creating a less stressful environment at home as well as departing without vacillating among others.

The US CDC too has shared a list of dos and don'ts for parents and children to smoothen the transition to schools. You can read it here.

With inputs froma agencies

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