Interview

Jennifer Grant


As Dr. Fulford and Dr. Bitnun have said, children are not particularly at risk and schools are not particularly areas of transmission, which brings us towards our fiduciary responsibilities towards our children. Canada is a signatory to the Convention on the International Rights of the Child. The two rights most pertinent to our discussion are the rights to education and the other is to be considered as a special population and have adults make decisions that are in the best interests of children. And both of these rights are being violated by the closure of schools. 

One of the criteria in that charter is that there must be every mitigation in place for schools and for education. And we have tried no mitigation in any of the places where close schools were closed. We sent kids home with computers and told them to manage.

Losing schools has caused enormous damage to our children, as has been said. In terms of the right to be considered as a special population: school closure is all harm to children with no benefit. We are throwing our children under the bus on this and making them take the heat for a pandemic for which they have no responsibility. And then the question is, “Is this justified?” And the answer to that is, “No, it isn’t.” 

Real-world data show that transmission to communities in schools is low, if it exists at all. When studies have been done, most have shown no particular association with schools, if there has been a signal shown, it’s been small and it’s been confounded, and when those confounders are corrected for, the contribution of schools to community transmission remains very low. 

So what about families? Are families at higher risk because their kids are going to school? The answer is no. A U.K. study showed that parents and grandparents are at just the same risk, in fact lower risk, of mortality and death when children are in their house whether their schools are opened or closed. 

Our children are safe in school. We need to stop throwing them under the bus.

Cross-examination:

Moderator Meera Dalal-Burns: Let’s talk about mitigation of small risks in kids. When we are pregnant, we prioritize kids and mitigate the smallest risks: i.e., safe sleeping guidelines to prevent infant death, even though its exceedingly rare; medications are unsafe until proven safe; we’re not giving our vaccines to very young kids until the trials and data are available. So isn’t it a bit strange that the ones who are at school while the rest of us are safe and locked down are kids?

Jennifer Grant: This comes to a much broader, deeper societal question that probably is worthy of another debate: the principle that doing something is safer than staying the course. I put to you, based on the data that has been presented, that it’s not safer to have kids out of school; it is the experiment to pull kids out of school and lock them at home with parents, keeping in mind that in many situations, home is not safe. It may not be safe because of violence. But it may also not be safe because there’s an adult that cannot manage child supervision. It is not safe because when we look at the data, we can see clear harm from closing schools. It’s clear across the board, it’s been noticed everywhere, whereas the risks in school have been difficult to show, if they exist at all. I know that people are bringing up the precautionary principle, but it’s being misapplied in this context. It is not precautionary to force children into a completely unnatural environment. The precautionary principle dictates that we keep kids in school until such time as we can prove that doing so is more harmful.

Meera Dalal-Burns: You mentioned the Rights of the Child document. But in the same document in Article Three, they say that “parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.” So it’s saying that the same standards that we apply to adults, the kids have the right to have those standards apply to them as well.

Jennifer Grant: No, it doesn’t actually. It says that children have the right to be considered as a special population. And when adult standards are inappropriate for children, which they are in this context, because children are at substantially lower risk than adults, then that should not apply. Children need to be considered with their specific risk and benefit balance in mind. And so while I understand that people think that children should be treated as little adults, they shouldn’t be. They need to be treated as children and as a special population.

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Authors

Jennifer Grant

Contributor

Jennifer Grant is a microbiology and infectious disease specialist at Vancouver General Hospital. She is the medical director of Vancouver Coastal Health’s ASPIRES program.

Cross-examiner

Meera Dalal-Burns

Contributor

Meera is a general internist, palliative care physician at St. Michael’s Hospital, and journalist with a penchant for the unusual and a love of untold stories.

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