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New NCIRS research: Understanding SARS-CoV-2 Delta and Omicron variant transmission and vaccine impact in schools and child-care settings in Australia: a population-based study

Globally, over 214 million students have been affected by school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is understood that school and childcare play a critical role in childhood and adolescent learning and social and emotional growth, and that having educational services open safely for face-to-face learning is very important for children, young people, families and the community.

To address knowledge gaps on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 delta (B.1.617.2) and omicron (B.1.1.529) variants in educational settings, a team of NCIRS researchers examined virus transmission in schools and early childhood education settings (ECEC) in New South Wales (NSW). 

The resulting paper, published in The Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific, combines previous preliminary findings released in 2020–21 and is part of an ongoing study by NCIRS and The University of Sydney, in collaboration with NSW Health and the NSW Department of Education. 

It is one of the largest observational cohort studies undertaken globally in schools and ECEC settings, with 1187 schools, 300 ECECs and 24,277 participants across NSW involved. The authors  prospectively examined transmission from infected cases to contacts, by omicron versus delta variants, in students and staff members across different setting types and by vaccination status.

The study found that vaccination reduced SARS-CoV-2 transmission rates in schools, although less so for omicron than delta variants. Despite higher community-based transmission rates, virus transmission in the educational setting remained low, suggesting that community restrictions, rather than school closures, best mitigated the impacts of COVID-19.

Read the full publication here

Learn more about NCIRS’ work on COVID-19 in educational settings here