Test All Sick School Children and Offer Vaccines from 5 Years
An OPED in Sweden’s National Paper “Dagens Nyheter”
DN DEBATE 7/12/2021
Vaccination against COVID-19 of children between 5 and 11 years of age began in Denmark at the end of November.
The association Covid-19 school and children and the action group Lärarupproret (Teachers Voice): Sweden should follow Denmark and Finland.
Now that there are approved COVID vaccines for children from the age of 5, Sweden should follow our Nordic neighbors and offer vaccines to the youngest school children as well. At the same time, the Swedish Public Health Agency should recommend testing of all children with symptoms, no matter what their age is.
This is an opinion piece in Dagens Nyheter. The author is responsible for opinions in the article. The Corona Commission’s second partial report states that nursing homes where many employees worked with school children had a higher mortality rate. The Commission also stated that teachers were among the most infected professions.The report thus showed a connection between the school environment, increased social infection and mortality. We agree with this analysis – but are deeply concerned that children’s vulnerability is not given more attention in the report. We are also critical of the fact that the Swedish Public Health Agency’s recommendations have not protected children from infection.
Children should be allowed to go to school, but should also be protected from COVID-19. During the pandemic, we have therefore tried to communicate with principals, school directors, teachers, infection control physicians and politicians about the importance of proper infection control. These measures must be carried out in accordance with the Swedish Pandemic Diseases Act, the Work Environment Act and recommendations from the European Communicable Diseases Control Agency ECDC and the World Health Organization WHO. But we have seldom heard any safety measures for schools in Sweden.Our society for the protection of kids, has reported over 2,400 cases of infection in schools to the Swedish Work Environment Authority and hundreds of schools for their deficient infection control measures. In the reports, we have pointed out that the children were forced to stay in a “non-infection-safe” environment and thus exposed to a new, unknown virus. It is irresponsible, unethical and contrary to the precautionary principle.
We believe that one reason for the schools’ inadequate infection control work has to do with the fact that the Swedish Public Health Agency has incorrectly claimed through the pandemic that “children are not the driving force of the infection” and that they rarely get sick. This claim is refuted by the Corona Commission’s report. Already last winter, three studies were published that showed that closed schools were the second most effective measure to reduce the spread of infection in a society.In addition, a Swedish and an American study have shown that the risk of getting COVID-19 increases if you have children who go to school. The US study showed that a combination of various measures such as increased ventilation, use of face masks and daily symptom controls eliminated this increased risk.
The second claim, that children rarely get sick, is refuted by the fact that more than 1,400 children have been admitted to hospital with COVID-19 infection in Sweden. Of these, 92 were so seriously ill that they were treated in the intensive care unit. In addition, 14 children have died of COVID-19, which makes the disease a more common cause of death for children than, for example, drowning in Sweden.
In addition, many children suffer from long COVID. Reports from several countries show that prolonged symptoms are common. Families with long-term sick children have been hit hard. Some children have not yet recovered after a year and a half. Studies from the United Kingdom and the United States have shown that the history of COVID-19 infection increases the risk of developing diabetes in children as well. There is a similar observation in Sweden, but here it is not believed to have anything to do with COVID-19 – despite the fact that the link between diabetes and viral infections was established long before the pandemic. There is also evidence of brain damage even after a mild infection and it is possible to measure reduced intelligence in those who have undergone the infection.
There are thus clear signs that schools have a driving effect on the pandemic and that children can become seriously ill. Still, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell claimed as recently as March that children may infect each other, but that they do not take the infection home and that they do not infect their teachers.
We are now in a fourth wave and cases of the new Omicron mutant are also in Sweden. This wave affects not least younger people. Most common hospital admissions in the epicenter of omicron infection in South Africa are children between 0 and 2 years.
In Sweden, children accounted for more than a third of COVID-19 cases during the autumn, according to the Swedish Public Health Agency’s statistics. Therefore, children and young people must be included immediately in the Swedish infection control measures – that is, they must also have access to testing, vaccines and a safe school environment.
The Corona Commission states that it is “an accident” that testing and infection track and trace did not start until after the first wave. Several lawyers and infection control experts believe that the Swedish Public Health Agency violated the infection control law when they exempted double-vaccinated people from getting tested. But even here the child perspective is missing. Not once during the pandemic has the Swedish Public Health Agency recommended that children younger than six years be tested. Older children have also had difficulty getting tested.
Those who have tried to protect their schools from infection have often focused on the wrong measures, because the Swedish Public Health Agency’s recommendations are based on the fact that the infection is not airborne. Therefore, masks and increased ventilation/filtration are not recommended, but instead it is recommended that children keep their distance, wash their hands and stay at home when they are ill.
But washing your hands does not protect against infection that is primarily spread through the exhaled air and keeping a distance in a school environment is impossible. The advice to stay at home when you are ill does not work because infected children without symptoms are also contagious.We are also critical of the delayed vaccination of children. Today, only 21 percent of the age group 12–15 are fully vaccinated – despite a good supply of vaccines since the summer of 2021. This is worrying because unvaccinated children aged 12-17 are hospitalized ten times as often as those vaccinated.
There are now approved vaccines from the age of 5. Despite the fact that Denmark has started vaccinating its youngest and Finland plans to start at Christmas, the Swedish Public Health Agency has not yet recommended it in Sweden.
A report from the American Institute for Communicable Disease Control (CDC) shows that the child group 0-4 years is hardest hit by acute COVID-19. Also in Sweden, slightly more of the youngest children (0–9 years) have been admitted to hospital with acute COVID-19 than older (10–19 years). As children of preschool age are not tested, there is no information on how widespread the spread of infection has been, but the Corona Commission notes that preschool teachers have been affected by COVID-19 to a greater extent than other teacher categories.
Sweden has a responsibility to let children go to school – but at the same time it has a responsibility to protect them from a dangerous infection. We therefore appeal to the Public Health Agency and Minister of Social Affairs Lena Hallengren (S) to act to protect children from COVID-19:
● Ensure that all regions and schools observe the precautionary principle and comply with the Infection Control and Work Environment Act. It means to ensure that all ages are tested for symptoms and preferably also preventive measures incorporated in all schools.
● The regions should introduce effective infection tracing when children become ill and ensure that school principals follow adequate and successful infection control measures.
● In addition, children from the age of 5 must be urgently offered a vaccine.
DN Debate. December 7, 2021
Debate article: The association Covid-19 school and children and the action group Lärarupproret
Written by: Wendy Boyd Isacsson, high school teacher, Nele Brusselers, Associate Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, Karolinska Institutet, Andrew Ewing, Professor of Biochemistry, Gothenburg Universeitet, Cristhine Hellsten Kerslow, senior school teacher, Johanna Höög, Associate Professor of Cell Biology, University of Gothenburg, Anne Ketonen, chief physician in psychiatry, Gabriela Maya, senior lecturer in English, Södertörn University, Jens Stilhoff Sörensen, Associate Professor of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Elisabeth Wall, elementary school teacher, Fredrik Ydhag, preschool teacher
For the” association Covid-19 school and children” and the action group “Lärarupproret”