Unvaccinated groups are probably among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic by far. However, as of mid-October 2021 (which is the time of this writing), not a single country in the world has yet authorized COVID-19 vaccines for children under age 12. A study suggests, without masking and testing, more than 75 percent of susceptible children in school would become infected within three months. This plight reflects a higher risk for children to contract the Delta variant, the most transmissible virus to date.
HOW DOES COVID-19 AFFECT CHILDREN?
Most children infected with COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms and are less likely to be hospitalized than adults. Nevertheless, children are not immune to COVID-19. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the number of COVID-19 cases in children has reportedly multiplied since the onset of the pandemic, accounting for nearly 27% of all cases reported for the week ending September 30.
Children with underlying health conditions may also be at increased risk for severe illness. A rare but potentially severe complication called MIS-C (short for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children) can occur in children, which can lead to life-threatening problems with the inflammation of the heart and other organs in the body.
There is also increasing evidence that a significant number of COVID-19 “recovered” patients go on experiencing lingering symptoms for months after their initial infection, even if the case was mild.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON SYMPTOMS FOR CHILDREN?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common COVID-19 symptoms in children are similar to those of adults, which includes fever and continuous cough; however, children may experience the following signs or symptoms as well:
- New nasal congestion or runny nose
- New loss of taste or smell — this means they cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different from normal
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, belly pain, or diarrhea
- Extreme tiredness
- Severe headache
- Muscle aches and pain
- Poor appetites or poor feeding, especially in children under 1 year old
DELTA VARIANT CAUSING AN INCREASE IN PEDIATRIC COVID-19 CASES
The highly transmittable Delta variant has initiated new lockdowns, outbreaks, and even restrictions for fully vaccinated people. In the U.S. alone, the variant already makes up more than 80% of new cases and has been linked to the surge in childhood infections.
From July 31 to August 6 on average, 216 children with COVID-19 were hospitalized in the U.S. every day, nearly matching the 217 daily admissions during the peak of the pandemic in early January. According to another study of 14 states, the hospitalization rates in the United States for children and teenagers during late July to mid-August also increased nearly five times – that is about 1.4 of every 100,000 children.
IMPACT OF VACCINATION
Community-level vaccination is considered one of the most effective ways in protecting the pediatric population. Based on an analysis provided by the CDC, adolescent COVID-19 hospitalization rates are highest among those who are not vaccinated and in communities with low vaccine coverage. Another study indicated that pediatric hospital admissions were about four times as high in states with the lowest vaccination rates as in those with the highest rates.
IMPACT OF MASKING
COVID-19 can spread when people breathe, talk, cough, or sneeze. To fight against it, the WHO recommends all people to keep wearing masks regardless of their vaccination status: wearing a mask in general limits airborne transmission. It not only protects the wearer from getting infected with the virus, but also protects those around the wearer, especially the ones who have not been vaccinated, and those with a weakened immune system. Children who cannot get vaccinated therefore will need masks and social distancing to keep themselves safe.
There are many ways for parents to educate their kids on the importance of mask-wearing. For example, parents can set an example by choosing to wear a mask themselves, teach the children how to put on or take off face masks properly, or find fun, colorful face masks with the kids in stores to evoke children’s interest in wearing masks.
According to the CDC, universal masking helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 and minimize disruptions to school operations for safe on-site education. School districts without an established universal masking policy also have a higher chance of experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. Concurrently, the number of pediatric COVID-19 cases increased nearly twice as quickly in counties without masking requirements. To help ensure safer in-person learning and stop the spread of COVID-19, school districts should promote vaccination, mask-wearing, and screening tests to continue working towards the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Compared to adults, most children are less likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19 despite the prevalence of the Delta variant. However, the current school season has meant increased pediatric admissions and potentially insufficient hospital care capacity for pediatric patients. The first and foremost method to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 for children is to support community vaccination. The second line of defense is continued compliance with the public mask mandate, regular screening, and improved ventilation system. Remember, we can and should fight COVID-19 on multiple fronts.
Anthes, E. (2021, September 10). Delta Variant Is Sending More Children to the Hospital. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/09/health/coronavirus-children-delta.html
Boston.com. (2021, September 23). Children’s Hospital collecting data on link between COVID and deadly MIS-C in children. https://www.boston.com/news/coronavirus/2021/09/22/childrens-hospital-collecting-data-covid-mis-c-kids/
Coronavirus (COVID-19): Kids and Masks (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth. (n.d.). Kids Health. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/coronavirus-masks.html
Coronavirus Disease 2019. (n.d.). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/p0924-school-masking.html
COVID-19 and Your Health. (2021, August 4). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/about-covid-19/caring-for-children/families.html
COVID-19 (coronavirus) in babies and children. (2021, September 21). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-in-babies-and-children/art-20484405
Goldberg, E., & Anthes, E. (2021, September 4). Hospitalizations for Children Soar. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/03/health/delta-children-hospitalization-rates.html
Goldberg, M. (2021, August 31). Opinion | The Intolerable Wait for a Kids’ Vaccine. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/31/opinion/kids-covid-vaccine.html
Hart, R. (2021, July 5). Kids Among Most Vulnerable To Infectious Delta Variant — Here’s Why You Should Be More Worried. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthart/2021/07/02/kids-among-most-vulnerable-to-infectious-delta-variant—heres-why-you-should-be-more-worried/
Harvard Health. (2021, October 21). Coronavirus outbreak and kids. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-outbreak-and-kids
News Articles | American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021, September 3). American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2021/09/03/covid-delta-variant-children-+hospitalizations-090321
Times, T. N. Y. (2021, September 17). Fauci Answers Your Questions. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/09/16/well/family/coronavirus-kids-children.html
Waldrop, J. C. C. A. T. (2021, September 28). Children made up 27% of all new Covid-19 cases. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/09/27/health/children-covid-new-cases/index.html
Wikipedia contributors. (2021, October 18). Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_of_the_COVID-19_pandemic_on_children
Zhang, Y. (2021, January 1). COVID-19 Projections for K12 Schools in Fall 2021: Significant Transmission without Interventions. MedRxiv. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.08.10.21261726v1