Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week that it's "very important" for children to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but doesn't think parents should be required to have their children vaccinated before kids can go back to school. He also said vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors.
"Whenever you're talking about requiring something, that's always a charged issue. So I'm not so sure we should be requiring children at all," the top White House health adviser said on "CBS This Morning" Thursday. "We should be encouraging them. But you got to be careful when you make a requirement of something, that usually gets you into a lot of pushback, understandable pushback."
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week approved the use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15. Beginning Thursday, anyone 12 and older is eligible to receive the vaccine.
CDC data demonstrates that children in grades K-12 are at low risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. In-person learning at school has not been associated with a substantial increase in community transmission of the virus, but there is ongoing debate over whether kids should be vaccinated before schools open in the fall.
Some parents remain hesitant to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. According to the KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, a research project that tracks public opinions on the vaccines, 23% of parents with children ages 12-15 say the definitely will not have their kids vaccinated, while 30% say they will get their kids vaccinated right away. Another 26% said they want to wait to see how the vaccine is working, and 18% said they will only have their kids vaccinated if their school requires it.
"You don't want to in any manner or form have the parents feel like they're doing something wrong by questioning," Fauci said. "It's a perfectly normal thing to be concerned about your children and to question. And that's the reason why you want to get them as much information as you possibly can."
"It is very important for children to get vaccinated," he continued, acknowledging that while children are at a low risk of serious infection from COVID-19, there are still some kids who become ill and are in "serious trouble."
There are documented cases of children who contract COVID-19 continuing to have symptoms lasting more than 120 days after getting sick, a phenomena becoming known as "long covid." At least five hospitals in the U.S. have opened "long-haul" pediatric clinics to care for children with lingering illness from the virus. While these cases happen at a "low rate," Fauci advised parents to take preventive precautions by getting their children vaccinated.
"The other aspect of it that they need to understand, is that when children get infected — even though they may not, in fact, get serious illness — they could inadvertently and innocently pass the infection on to someone else, perhaps another member of the family who is vulnerable and could get in trouble," Fauci added.
He reminded viewers that there are benefits to being vaccinated, according to CDC recommendations.
"If you were vaccinated, you don't have to wear a mask outside," Fauci said. "If you were going into a completely crowded situation where people are essentially falling all over each other, then you wear a mask. But any other time, if you're vaccinated and you're outside, put aside your mask. You don't have to wear it."