A Departure From Principles Of Public Health

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic in many countries has included policies with no scientific justification and no cost-benefit consideration. Lockdowns, prolonged school closures, mass testing, contact tracing, extensive social distancing and mask wearing in the general population mark a drastic departure from pre-COVID-19 public health guidelines and pandemic preparedness plans (Inglesby et al., 2006; WHO, 2019).

Health Interventions Based On Needs

During this pandemic, many governments and societies have placed narrow  emphasis on reducing ‘cases’ of COVID-19 to prevent deaths from the illness in the high-risk group. This policy failed drastically and inflicted great collateral damage   upon vulnerable groups such as low income families and communities, individuals with disabilities and mental illness, the elderly and children and young people (15 to 25 years old (WHO, n.d.a). A response based on the focused protection of those at high risk from COVID-19 can achieve the best outcomes for all, as described in the Great Barrington Declaration (Kulldorff et al., 2020) and the Protocol for Reopening Society (PANDATA, 2020).

Epidemiology Speaks Loudly

COVID-19 presents a high risk of severe illness and death to the elderly with multiple comorbidities, and a negligible risk to the majority of the population (CDC, 2021a). For people under 70, the median infection fatality rate (IFR) is 0.05 percent (Ioannidis, 2021). This estimate includes individuals with comorbidities, which implies that it is significantly lower for those without. For children and young people the IFR is “near zero” (Oke & Heneghan, 2020). They are also not the main drivers of transmissions to adults, in particular to the elderly (Ludvigsson, 2020). These advantages were not taken into account when devising the COVID-19 public health policy and, despite mounting epidemiological evidence, continue to be ignored to the lasting detriment of this population.

The Next Generation Is In Peril

Evidence already shows serious damage to the physical, mental and social wellbeing of children and young people, as well as their educational attainment and future prospects (Lewis et al., 2021). There was never a reason to disrupt the lives of children and young people and there is every reason to restore normality to this population. Policy-makers should take immediate action to protect children and young people from further harm and injustice, now and in the future.

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ACTIONS TO RE-ESTABLISH NORMALITY

1. Lift all COVID-19 mandates, particularly masks and social distancing on educational, social, medical and leisure services catering to children and young people. Scale up these services to meet increased need.

2. Stop the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to children and young people. They do not benefit from these vaccines as their risk from the disease is almost nil. Mass vaccination and vaccine trials on healthy children are therefore unethical. Vaccinating this population diverts resources away from the vulnerable and other more pertinent health issues (such as child starvation or routine pediatric vaccination). Families of children and young people with severe comorbidities should consult their physician for guidance. High-risk staff are free to opt for the Covid-19 vaccines.

3. End the testing of infants, children and young people. In case of illness (the presence of COVID-19 symptoms), they should stay at home until fully recovered. Mandatory testing of students is unethical.

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ACTIONS TO FACILITATE RECOVERY

1. Evaluate the short-term and long-term impact of lockdowns and interrupted and suboptimal educational provisions on children and young people in terms of physical and mental health, social adjustment, educational achievement and career prospects. SMART goals should be set. The magnitude of the harm done should be shared with the public and policy-makers should be held accountable.

2. Devise remediation programmes to reach educational, mental and physical well-being goals, particularly for vulnerable groups such as young people who dropped out of school or find themselves in early marriage or pregnant.

3. Form a multidisciplinary expert taskforce to build a case to render extended closure of educational institutions unlawful, to ensure that a similar calamity is avoided in the future.

I stand with PANDA in being deeply concerned for the wellbeing and future prospects of children and young people all over the world. We urge world leaders to take action to save the children from the Covid-19 response that has robbed them of their right to live without fear, to play and have fun and to develop their potential.

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