WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will “probably” advise children under age 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to wear masks in school this fall.
Biden said at a CNN town hall in Cincinnati that kids older than 12 who are fully vaccinated should not wear masks, but he acknowledged that it could be difficult for some school districts to determine who is and is not vaccinated.
“It’s going to get a little big tight in terms of, well, are Mom or Dad being honest that Johnny did or did not get vaccinated? That’s going to raise questions,” Biden said. “It’s a matter of community responsibility.”
Some local governments have brought back mask mandates in recent days as Covid-19 cases and deaths have risen because of the highly transmissible delta variant and declining vaccination rates. Reports of breakthrough cases among vaccinated people have also raised questions about whether some health precautions should be reinstated.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said he would wear a mask in certain parts of the country where vaccination rates are low. Fauci said in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday that if vaccinated people “want to go the extra mile of safety” they could consider wearing masks indoors, particularly in crowded places.
Biden also said Wednesday that he hoped that the vaccines would become available to kids under 12 “soon,” but he stressed that he was not pressuring the CDC or other health experts to rush to a decision.
“They’re not promising me any specific date, but my expectation talking to the group of scientists we put together, over 20 of them, plus others in the field, is that sometime maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, they’ll get a final approval,” he said.
A Food and Drug Administration official suggested last week that the timeline for emergency authorization for Covid-19 vaccines in children under 12 could come a bit later, probably early to midwinter.
Covid-19 vaccines have been authorized only for people ages 12 and up in the U.S.
Whether children should be required to wear masks in schools regardless of vaccination status has been a point of tension among some health experts. The CDC said this month that fully vaccinated students do not need to wear masks in classrooms, while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended Monday that all children over age 2 wear masks when returning to school this year, even if they are vaccinated.
School districts are not legally required to follow CDC guidance. Some local governments have already banned schools and colleges from requiring Covid-19 vaccinations and masks.