Even as the schools, parents and students are prepping to resume the in-person study classes after an unprecedented and long hiatus following the COVID - 19 pandemic, there are concerns and apprehensions about sending children to schools. The public opinion is divided over the reopening of the schools. While one group is bothered about the academic losses and the uncertain future, others fear hideous consequences that the school reopening might trigger.
Kochi-based molecular biologist Dr.C. Mohankumar, who is the director of Scopeful Bioresearch, is one who strongly opposes the reopening. In this interview, he tells that parents like him are worried because they know the behaviour of the virus. When the school is open again after the pandemic, there will be twin sets of people facing the viral loads in the air - one is the vaccinated ones, including teachers, staff and all the other elder groups in society. The other set is that of unvaccinated children," he tells Onmanorama.
Edited excerpts from an interview.
Why do you think the school reopening should be delayed?
There has been no empirical study that shows children are at no risk of contracting the coronavirus infection. On the other hand, there are cases of small children being infected by the coronavirus, though very sparsely. In China there were even cases of several newborns infected by the virus.
Review of 72,314 cases by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that less than 1% of the cases were in children younger than 10 years of age. This was reported by the New England Journal of Medicine in March 2020.
Again, the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) had published a study on September 7, 2021, which said that 'children can experience SARS-CoV-2 post-viral syndromes, but it is unclear to what extent these individuals are affected by long COVID. Evidence is predominantly limited to select populations without control groups, which does not allow estimating the overall prevalence and burden in a general paediatric population. This points to the fact that children can contract the virus and not enough research has been conducted in this regard.
Do you find any discrepancies in the guidelines for school reopening?
The schools have already completed one term and have successfully managed the online classes. So what is the harm in finishing another term in a similar fashion? And the digital format has helped schools curb much of the financial losses the academic downslide has incurred.
There are also discrepancies in the norms set for the reopening of schools as well, such as letting some classes, including those in the primary section, commence and not allowing some others.
How can the kids in smaller classes be managed and make them adhere to the Covid appropriate behaviour protocols? The virus needs only seconds of an inadvertent contact or exposure to enter the system.
How will school reopening affect children at this point?
If a child gets infected he has to follow the long gruesome procedures of RTPCR test, medication and quarantine. Apart from creating a scene of embarrassment in the household, the situation can dent the psycho-physiological state of the family and the child in particular. In addition, if another spread gets unmanageable, there are chances of the education scenario going haywire again.
Another aspect is the children's proximity to their grandparents. This opens up another risk of breakthrough infections if the elderly have obtained both the doses of Covid vaccines.
If academic losses, inequity in the accessibility to online studies and economic slump are cited as reasons for the school reopening what I would recommend is a proper study on them and an effort to find a solution on its basis.
What is the point in unleashing a mass attack instead of addressing the problems of a few sections separately?
Now there are vaccines available to adults. Researches are in progress in many parts of the world to invent the modalities for inoculation of children. So, if we have waited so far, why not wait for a little more until a safety regime for all has been achieved.
What are the alternate solutions?
Another area that should be brought into the ambit of studies is the efficacy of Homeopathy in boosting immunity among children.
The government had hinted about the trials of homeopathic medicines earlier, but no scientific study has been conducted in this regard so far.
I have seen doctors of modern medicine prescribing homeopathic medicines for children on the basis of a few case sheets. That can't be allowed. We should follow such streams of medicine only after availing proper scientific data on their efficacy. There must be research studies in this regard so that we can opt for them if approved by relevant institutions.
What is the point in achieving academic gains if we are unable to protect our children's health?