NIH Director Endorses Mask-Wearing for Young Students

By Susan Jones | August 2, 2021 | 5:39am EDT
(Photo by GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said on Sunday that mask-wearing for schoolchildren may be "inconvenient," but it makes good "common sense."

Collins also said he likes the idea of businesses requiring proof of vaccination for their employees and customers.

Collins, appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," was asked to comment on an executive order signed on Friday by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that says parents, not boards of education, should decide whether their children wear face masks when they return to school in the next few weeks.

COVID-19 transmission is high and rising in Florida.

Host Jake Tapper asked Collins, "As a public health measure, is there a public health reason to ban schools from requiring masks? And are you afraid at all that banning masks requirements might cost lives?"

"Well, I don't understand the ban," Collins said:

Certainly, this seems like something local officials ought to be able to decide based on their community's circumstance.

And we do know that kids are capable of getting pretty sick. We have lost about 400 children who have died from COVID-19 since this all started. And kids can also get long COVID, where they don't maybe that sick with the acute illness, but then end up, months later, with difficulties with brain fog and fatigue that interferes with their school performance.

So, this is not to be just dismissed as a zero risk. And, of course, kids also live in homes. And there may be people in those homes who are perhaps immuno-suppressed, and they could bring home the virus and cause a bad outcome.

So it just makes common sense in a community where the virus is spreading -- and that's pretty much all of Florida right now -- to do everything you can to prevent that, which includes mask-wearing for kids in schools, even though it's inconvenient.

I think, maybe, when you look on the scale of things that we're asked to do, being asked to wear a mask is perhaps not quite the huge challenge, burden that sometimes is being portrayed. Kids are pretty adaptable.

What we need to do is be sure they get back to school. That's really critical, so that they have a chance for social interactions and learning. That, we must protect. And maybe the best way to do that is to be sure you're not allowing outbreaks in the schools by having everybody run around without the masks.

Collins said the Food and Drug Administration is now reviewing data to determine if the Pfizer vaccine should be approved for children under the age of 12.

"The question is, will they decide to issue that as an emergency use for that age group, or will they fold it in when they put forward the full approval of the vaccine, which is also intensely under study?

"And Peter Marks at FDA has just recently indicated that it's an all-hands-on-deck effort to speed that up. I know everybody wants that to happen as soon as possible, but you want it done right."

In his executive order, Gov. DeSantis said there is no "well-grounded scientific justification" for forcing students to wear masks. And he noted that "there is no statistically significant evidence to suggest that counties with mask requirements have fared any better than those without mask requirements during the 2020-2021 school year."

'Yes' to vaccine passports

CNN's Jake Tapper asked Collins if "it would be good for more businesses to require vaccine credentials in order to have vaccinated customers?"

"As a public health person who wants to see this pandemic end, yes," Collins replied.

I think anything we can do to encourage reluctant folks to get vaccinated, because they will want to be part of these public events, that's a good thing.

I'm delighted to see employers like Disney and Walmart coming out and asking their staff now to be vaccinated. I'm glad to see the president has said all federal employees -- I oversee NIH with 45,000 people -- need to also get vaccinated, or, if they're not, to get regular testing, which is inconvenient.

All of those steps I think are in the right direction. But I think maybe that's what it will take for some of those who have still been a little reluctant to say, OK, it's time. The data will support that decision. They are making the right choice for their own safety, but, sometimes, it takes a nudge.

Collins also said a "case could be made" for requiring proof of vaccination for air travelers.

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