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On Tuesday, Margaret Keenan of Coventry, U.K. became the first patient worldwide to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, just one week before her 91st birthday. Alabama Department of Health (ADPH) expects to receive 41,000 vaccine doses in the coming weeks, all of which will be going to healthcare workers, with nursing home seniors next on the list. For children under 12, however, vaccine trials are just beginning, while actual roll-out could take months, according to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

While children are far less susceptible to severe COVID-19 symptoms, they’re still capable of spreading it, which puts their education at peril. The longer it takes children to get vaccinated, the longer it will take to return to traditional schooling.

Our priority during the pandemic has been the safety of the older, vulnerable populations — as it should be. In a generation’s time, however, many of those for whom we’ve made sacrifices will be long gone, while today’s schoolchildren will be facing the consequences of this year’s setbacks.

Education isn’t the only sacrifice being made — students are also being asked to forgo sports, social gatherings and after-school activities. This — coupled with less time spent in P.E. class or at recess as students go in and out of virtual learning — is also taking a toll on children’s physical health, according to local pediatrician Dr. Chante Ruffin.

That’s not to say things were perfect before the pandemic. A recent study by nonprofit The Afterschool Alliance found while demand for after-school programs is growing, participation is on the decline, with only 11% of children in Alabama enrolled in after-school programs compared with 13% in 2014.  

Now that we have three promising vaccines and a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s time to direct our focus to today’s youth.

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