COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation are impacting the way school districts approach reopening.

While some districts have required vaccinations and mask-wearing, others are facing backlash from politicians and even some parents, for implementing measures to protect children’s health. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, both instituted bans on mask mandates, threatening to cut the salaries of school superintendents and board members who defied the order.

In a one-on-one interview with theGrio, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy spoke out against the politically-driven policies.

“I’m very disturbed when I hear about the efforts to restrict schools from requiring masks because we know that this is an important step to keep our kids safe,” says Dr. Murthy, who is also a father of two.

“We know the science supports the use of masks and reducing the spread of infection and why we would take that important layer of safety away from our children, especially during a surge of infection that we’re seeing with Delta really is concerning and perplexing.”

On Tuesday, a group of parents in Williamson County, Tennessee, harassed and angrily taunted medical professionals and masked people after a school board meeting, where a mask mandate had been approved. Dr. Murthy’s office recently issued a surgeon general’s advisory on health misinformation, which in part is fueling anti-masking and anti-vaccination campaigns.

“A lot of people have been robbed of the freedom to make the right choices because they’re flooded by misinformation, particularly on social media channels,” Dr. Murthy tells theGrio.

A Message for Parents Afraid of Vaccination

As the COVID-19 Delta variant surges and more children are infected by the virus, many parents across the country are wrestling with more than whether to send their children to school. Currently, vaccination is only available for children 12 years of age and older, leaving younger kids vulnerable and reliant on the people around them for protection.

“Our unvaccinated young kids are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, especially with the Delta variant compared to last year at this time,” Dr. Murthy told theGrio.

Dr. Murthy pleaded with parents to consider the health of all children, as they weigh whether or not to vaccinate their own.

“For anyone listening who’s not vaccinated yet, who’s been wondering if it’s the right thing for them, who’s worried maybe about some of the news that they’ve heard or who’s had bad experiences with the health care system, there’s nothing wrong with having questions. It’s not a reason to feel ashamed. What’s important is that you’re able to get the facts and make the right decision for yourself,” he says.

“The Delta variant is more dangerous than anything we’ve seen before because it is more contagious and it’s spreading like wildfire. We’ve seen the heavy toll it’s taken in terms of loss of life. We’ve also seen that that toll has been disproportionately borne by communities of color. If we want our community to heal, we’ve got to stop this virus. The most effective blockade we have against the virus is the vaccine.

Possible side effects for children after the COVID-19 vaccination include pain, swelling, and redness near the injection site, and overall tiredness, muscle pain, or chills, according to the CDC.

“We’ve administered more than 350 million doses of vaccine,” Dr. Murthy tells theGrio. “These are actually remarkably effective [and] dramatically drop the chances that you will die or be hospitalized. They’re incredibly safe. The side effects you may have heard about with the vaccine are incredibly rare. We’ve got to compare the risk of a rare side effect with the vaccine, with what we know is a very clear and present danger, which is COVID-19 itself.”

Dr. Murthy also debunked any myths around COVID-19’s impact on fertility, mutations of DNA, or that the vaccine itself causes COVID-19. He also rejected claims that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu.

“No. It is not like the flu,” Dr. Murthy says. “It is different in several ways. This is — especially with Delta — a far more contagious variant that we are dealing with. And second, in terms of consequences. This is a far more consequential disease.

“We have lost more than 600,000 people to COVID-19. That does not happen with the flu. When was the last time you remember us going through a bad flu season and losing hundreds of thousands of people during our lifetime? This is a lot more dangerous than the flu.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations are also surging in states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Florida, where vaccination levels are low. Dr. Murthy says now is a time for communities to show courage.

“The key to ending this pandemic is actually coming together and recognizing we don’t get through pandemics alone, each just doing our own thing and looking out for ourselves,” he says.

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we need each other now more than ever. We need to look out not only for ourselves and our kids, but for others and for their children, recognizing that together we are stronger, but also that the health and well-being of our country depends on us looking out for each other.”

Story & Photo Credit: Natasha S. Alford/thegrio