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As students return to school and the delta variant spreads, there are many questions about masking and COVID-19 vaccines

Mayo Clinic doctors discuss ways to keep children safe as they head back to the classroom.

MINNEAPOLIS — With school starting in just over a month, parents might have some questions about keeping their kids safe from the delta variant. 

Mayo Clinic doctors are adamant masks and vaccines are the two things that will keep your kids safe this fall and avoid distance learning. 

But the director of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research, Dr. Gregory Poland, says don't expect a vaccine for kids under 12 anytime soon.

"The FDA asked manufacturers to report not two months of safety data like they did for adults, not four months like initially planned, but six months of safety data," said Dr. Poland.

The vaccine trials for children just got underway in June. 

Dr. Poland says the highly scrutinized vaccines will protect against even the two newest variants - delta plus and lambda that originated in Peru. He says the benefits of the vaccines outweigh any risks. 

"To say, we're going to hold off to see about safety is to model really poor decision making in my mind," said Dr. Poland. "Vaccination is ultimately our way out of this and convincing people of the efficacy and safety, as has been with every vaccine, is a monumental task."

As for masks, pediatricians recommend kids wear a new one every day at school and make sure that it's comfortable.

Mayo Clinic pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse says, "If the mask becomes soiled, if it becomes wet, damaged or develops a hole, it should be replaced within the same school day."

If your child does get COVID-19, Dr. Rajapakse says sore throat, fever and gastrointestinal symptoms, like diarrhea and vomiting, are common.

The doctors also stress there's no telling how long natural antibodies will last, so vaccines are key when you can, while also taking your children's mental health just as seriously.

"Anxiety, depression, social isolation, eating disorders, you name it; essentially, we’ve seen it go up in pediatric world," said Dr. Rajapakse about children and the pandemic. "Keeping a low threshold to reach out early for help and assistance will be really important as they transition back." 

As of now, school districts can make up their own mask rules, but the Minnesota Department of Health recommends everyone wear one in K through 12 buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

And on Wednesday, other organizations, including the Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians and Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics also voiced their support for masks. 

"The MMA, MAFP, and MN-AAP urge all Minnesota school districts and private school leaders to adopt requirements consistent with this informed public health guidance and to encourage all eligible individuals to get vaccinated.”