Dr. Fauci Outlines What Schools Need For In-Person Teaching to Return

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading expert on infectious disease, has outlined the steps he believes schools need to take for in-person teaching to return.

Fauci, 80, the White House's chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked in an interview about the plans to re-open schools and what resources they will need to operate safely.

"Teachers are high priority to get vaccinated as essential workers and schools need adequate infrastructure in place to be safe for staff and children," he told Newsweek.

"They need resources to be able to obviously get masks for all the children, to be able to upgrade the ventilation systems, to get the proper personal protective equipment," the doctor said, adding that schools also need resources to provide for social distancing.

Schools have been ordered to fully re-open in four states—Arkansas, Florida, Iowa and Texas—according to Education Week data. In West Virginia, some grades have been returning to school and all elementary and middle schools have been asked to open five days a week.

There are partial closures in California, Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii and New Mexico. There are no orders in effect in the remaining 41 states, though schools in those states have been limiting classroom numbers.

Fauci said teachers will be high priority for vaccines as they are deemed essential workers. The COVID-19 vaccination recommendations established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, puts educators in Phase 1b. During that phase, the CDC intends to offer vaccines to those aged 75 years or more and frontline essential workers (non–healthcare workers).

President Biden's top medical adviser said children in high school—between the ages of 12 to 17 or 18—will be vaccinated in the fall. First school pupils will be vaccinated early next year.

"We don't classically at all give the vaccine to children until we've shown that it is clearly safe and effective in normal adults, and then we start working down in an age de-escalation," Fauci said.

"We anticipate that by the time we get to the fall, that children at high school age, namely 12 to 17/18, will be available for vaccination because several of the vaccine candidates are already doing the testing, down to the age from either 18 to 12 or 16 to 12.

"The getting the children in elementary school vaccinated is going to require a series of 'capital D' de-escalations because age de-escalations mainly go from 12 to six, from two to six, and from six months to two years. The reason for that is particularly when you're dealing with new platform technologies like mRNA, our regulatory agencies are very careful about the safety for the children."

MRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, is the molecule that essentially puts DNA instructions into action. Many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies to trigger an immune response. But mRNA vaccines don't—intead, they teach body cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response, which produces antibodies to protect against viruses.

The new mRNA technology has been used to make some of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates, including ones from U.S. companies Moderna and Pfizer. On December 11 last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer vaccine in the U.S. It was the first-ever mRNA-based vaccine to gain regulatory authorization. The Moderna vaccine was authorized a week later.

Fauci said vaccine studies on younger children will begin in the Spring. "Those studies are already going to be initiated in March and April, but we likely will not have the information for elementary school children until the first quarter of 2022. Whereas we will have the information we need for high school students — [aged] 12 to 17/18 — likely by this coming fall of this year."

Asked if he was concerned that the first quarter of 2022 is a bit far out for elementary school pupils to stop the spread of the virus in schools, Fauci said: "I think it will work out because by that time, many people that you're worried that the children might infect will have been vaccinated. By the time the children will get vaccinated, the first quarter of 2022, we hope we will have vaccinated the overwhelming majority of most Americans."

California learning amid COVID-19 pandemic
Children attend online classes at a learning hub inside the Crenshaw Family YMCA during the COVID-19 pandemic on February 17, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading expert on infectious disease, has outlined to Newsweek the steps he believes schools need to take for in-person teaching to return. Patrick Fallon/Getty