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Why a Vanderbilt researcher says schools can reopen even without vaccinations

Many Shelby County Schools parents want a return to in-person learning now.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Wednesday, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control said teachers don't have to be vaccinated to re-open schools.

Despite that, Shelby County schools isn't reversing its decision to open in-person learning. Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray postponed in-person learning indefinitely, citing safety concerns. 

Right now, more than 100 school districts in Tennessee are open for in-person learning. Some Shelby County Schools parents are frustrated that SCS students don't have that option.

"I feel let down. I feel like our community is going to suffer from this," said Kellyn Gowen, an SCS parent.

Gowen doesn't understand why Shelby County Schools won't reopen. Other large urban districts, and even other schools in our area, are open for in-person learning. 

"We've seen this in our own city. Our private schools have been back, schools in the next county over have been back, and they have done it safely and successfully. I don't understand why Dr. Ray thinks we are any different or this exception to the country. So many schools are doing this," said Gowen.

Because SCS isn't open for in-person learning, Gowen now runs a learning pod at her home. She helps moderate her virtual learning for her friend's children - a group of first and 6th graders.

"We made the choice to safely come together and create our own bubble and learn together to give them a better experience," said Gowen.

"We know that schools have not been the primary source of transmission in communities. We have beautiful data from across the country - in large and small districts from the across the country - that schools, with proper precautions, are not the most dangerous places that we see transmission of COVID," said Dr. Buddy Creech with Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

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Creech said while some teachers and staffing with medical conditions need the vaccine to be protected, data shows if protocols are put in place - such as social distancing and masking - schools can safely reopen even without vaccinations.

"I think it's important to recognize the data we have for school transmissions comes from districts where the teachers have not yet been vaccinated. And so, what we see in terms of the safety of school gatherings with those proper maneuvers, we can prevent infection from spreading in classroom setting," said Creech.

Creech said over the next several months, they will be launching pediatric vaccines studies. Which means by next fall, it is likely students, especially older students, will have been given the vaccine.

Gowen would rather not have to wait. She wants schools open for in-person learning sooner rather than later. 

"They need a safe place to go to learn and be engaged and be to be inspired, and they are not getting it sitting at home with this virtual model," said Gowen.