More than 12.3 million children have tested positive for Covid-19 and represent 1.5 percent of all hospitalizations from the virus in some states, and an increasing number of deaths, according to data released Feb. 10 by the American Association of Pediatrics.
The Centers for Disease Control Feb. 15 released new findings which showed that — amid the surge of the Omicron variant — children were hospitalized at a rate four times higher than with the Delta variant. Children under 5, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, were especially vulnerable to hospitalization and death.
The Food and Drug Administration announced Feb. 11 that they would postpone its decision to temporarily authorize the Pfizer vaccine for children under 5.
At a round-table discussion Feb. 16 — jointly organized by the California Department of Public Health, the Vaccinate All 58 initiative, and Ethnic Media Services — Dr. Priya Soni, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center explained the surge of pediatric infections and hospitalizations over the past three months.
“Until pretty recently, it seemed like one of the only silver linings of this pandemic was that the children were not really being as affected as much by Covid. They were kind of escaping the worst of this. And we know now very clearly that this changed completely.”
“Omicron is highly transmissible, much more transmissible than the Delta variant was, with a higher replication rate. And so that meant that if someone in the household was sick, they were more likely to pass it on to not just one, but maybe both children and vice versa,” said Soni, noting that Omicron peaked in the winter and holiday months when people were spending more time indoors and at gatherings.
Other speakers joining the discussion included: Dr. Manisha Newaskar, pediatric pulmonologist at Stanford Children’s Health; Dr. Jose Luis Perez, chief medical officer at South Central Family Health Center; and David Roman, director of development and communications at the South Central Family Health Center.
Some excerpts from the discussion:
EMS: What symptoms should parents be on the lookout for if a child does have covid-19? What signs or symptoms should parents look for as indicators to seek additional medical help?
DR. NEWASKAR: Some of the common symptoms we see our fever and chills, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, muscle or body aches a mild cough, even headache take and fatigue, and some people will experience loss of taste and or smell as well.
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are some of the symptoms symptoms that warrant immediate medical help include dizziness, chest pain or pressure that just does not go away. Also shortness of breath or any difficulty breathing, severe abdominal pain, confusion and trouble staying awake. And if the parents are seeing bluish discoloration of face and lips in the child, then they should be seeking medical attention immediately.
EMS: Currently just 18 percent of children who are eligible are actually vaccinated. What would you say to those parents struggling with whether whether or not to vaccinate their kids against covid-19?
PEREZ: Paramount to parents is: ‘Is safe to give this vaccine to my child?’ With the poor information out there, especially on social media, things like the Covid vaccine causing infertility, you can see why a parent will be so hesitant.
The greatest weapon that we have is education: letting parents know that scientists and doctors and all levels of the health care system in the United States are taking the utmost precaution in making sure that this vaccine is effective, and it is safe for your child.
SONI: This virus and the vaccine have been studied more than any other infection or pathogen in the history of time. We have such a successful roll-out in the five through 11 year old group. Over 8 million doses in this age group have been given with no major safety signals. I think that should be really reassuring to parents.
EMS: David, you and your wife send your 13 month old son Idris to daycare. Can you share a little bit about your experience being a new parent, navigating this pandemic?
DAVID ROMAN: Our son is almost precious thing for us in the whole world. So bringing him to daycare every day is an act of faith. We’re hopeful that other parents have done the responsible thing to for them to get vaccinated, that all the staff has been vaccinated.
And what we all uniformly share as parents is that our kids are under 5 years old and can’t be vaccinated right now. So you feel the pressure of it more as a parent, because you can’t get your kids vaccinated even if you wanted to.
EMS: What variables will play a role in keeping schools open in California? And how do we keep class room transmission to a minimum?
SONI: One of these safety measures is ventilation, which I feel doesn’t get talked about quite as much as masking and hand hygiene. We, of course, know the importance and significance of that, but that paired with the ability to vaccinate our five through 11 year olds has played a really big role in keeping the the numbers low in schools here in Los Angeles County.
EMS: Many counties are opening up their restrictions and allowing mask to come off, except for K through 12 schools, but that decision is going to be reviewed at the end of this month. How do we safely get our kids back to school without masks?
NEWASKAR: I think we need to continue the mask wearing masks in school until most kids in our country are vaccinated. We have to continue these the mitigation measures, and I would be strongly recommending that for my patients.
PEREZ: So reality is really important. We are not trying to attain zero infectivity: that’s impossible. So as long as we understand that, the benefit of removing masks from children is important because of the social aspect. And the psychological aspect of being in school has to be balanced with the fact that we are going to have more infections.
But with vaccines and with the current treatments that we have, we minimize the hospitalizations and the morbidity and mortality from this virus.