As Covid-19 cases in children continue to rise, several health experts underscore the need for pediatric vaccinations—not only to protect children, but also to prevent the development of more dangerous coronavirus variants.
Pediatric Covid-19 cases are on the rise
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children's Hospital Association, between Nov. 11 and Nov. 18, more than 140,000 children tested positive for Covid-19, up from 107,000 the week ending Nov. 4.
Sean O'Leary, vice chair of AAP's infectious diseases committee, said that children have accounted for a greater proportion of overall Covid-19 cases in the United States since vaccines have become widely available for adults. Between Nov. 11 and Nov. 18, pediatric cases made up around a quarter of all Covid-19 cases in the country.
"Is there cause for concern? Absolutely,” O'Leary said. "What's driving the increase in kids is there is an increase in cases overall."
Although children are less likely to develop severe Covid-19, they are still at risk and can spread the coronavirus to others, the New York Times reports. According to CDC, around 8,300 children ages 5 to 11 had been hospitalized and at least 172 had died from Covid-19 at the end of October—figures that acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock called "really startling."
The importance of vaccinating children against Covid-19
Amid this increase in pediatric Covid-19 cases, experts are renewing calls for children to get vaccinated against the Covid-19, the Associated Press reports. As of mid-November, around 10% of eligible children had received their first shots since federal regulators earlier this month authorized Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11,
According to Jeff Zients, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, around 2.6 million children received the vaccine in the first two weeks after the its authorization. "Just 10 days into our program being in full strength, we're at 10% of kids," Zients said. "For perspective, it took about 50 days for us to reach 10% of adults with one shot. And when the polio vaccine was first rolled out for kids in the 1950s it took about three months to cross two and a half million shots in arms."
Pediatricians and other health experts have said vaccination is necessary for children to protect them from potential hospitalization, long Covid symptoms, and multi-system inflammatory syndrome. In addition, vaccinating children may prevent schools from closing due to outbreaks, the Times reports. According to CDC data, Covid-19 outbreaks forced around 2,300 schools to close between early August and October, affecting more than 1.2 million students.
Furthermore, some infectious disease experts say that increasing vaccinations among children may prevent the development of dangerous new coronavirus variants, since fewer people would be infected overall.
Dave O'Connor, a virology expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describes infections as "lottery tickets that we're giving the virus" with the "jackpot" being a new, more dangerous coronavirus variant. "The fewer people who are infected, the less lottery tickets it has and the better off we're all going to be in terms of generating the variants," O'Connor said.
Pandemic models from the Covid-19 Scenario Modeling Hub also suggest that vaccinating children could make a big impact on the pandemic going forward, AP reports. According to recent estimates from the Modeling Hub, vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 would prevent around 430,000 Covid-19 cases between November through March 12, 2022, if no new variant emerged. And if a variant that was 50% more transmissible appeared, 860,000 new cases could be prevented.
The modeling predated the emergence of the new omicron variant, which the World Health Organization last week labeled a "variant of concern." It remains unclear whether omicron is more transmissible or virulent than earlier coronavirus variants.
Katriona Shea, co-leader of Modeling Hub from Pennsylvania State University, said pediatric vaccination could have "a big impact" on the pandemic.
Currently, several states are encouraging Covid-19 vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11, and more parents are getting their children vaccinated. For example, Cadell Walker, a 40-year-old mother from Louisville, Kentucky, said she recently took her 9-year-old daughter to be vaccinated, not only to protect her from the virus, but also to prevent the virus from spreading to others and potentially creating new variants.
"Love thy neighbor is something that we really do believe, and we want to be good community members and want to model that thinking for our daughter," Walker said. "The only way to really beat Covid is for all of us collectively to work together for the greater good." (Lukpat, New York Times, 11/23; AP/Modern Healthcare, 11/22)