Children account for a growing share of new coronavirus cases per week as overall infections decline with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, but infection and hospitalization rates in children remain stable.
In March 2020, children accounted for only about 2% of new infections. At the end of May, children accounted for more than 24% of new weekly infections while they only represent 16% of the population, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Health experts say this is a sign more adults and teens need to get vaccinated to avoid bringing the virus home and passing it on to children who are not yet eligible for the COVID vaccine -19.
“The virus is an equal opportunity infector. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, ”said Dr. Robert Frenck, professor of pediatrics and director of the Center for Vaccine Research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, who presented the data at a Johns Hopkins University-University of Washington symposium. Wednesday entitled “Covid-19 and children: impacts, uncertainties and role of vaccines”.
More than 4 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the United States, 18,500 have been hospitalized and 336 have died from the disease, according to the AAP. About 4,000 children have been hospitalized with children with multisystem inflammatory syndrome or MIS-C – a rare but dangerous disease, according to the CDC, is associated with COVID-19.
Although nearly 55% of Americans received at least one dose of the vaccine on Friday, health experts say vaccination rates are not uniform across the United States, giving way to epidemics and childhood infections.
“There are places where vaccination rates are as low as 20%,” Frenck said. “It’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’. (Epidemics) will happen, and unfortunately people will be surprised and that’s what we’ve tried to tell people.
Health experts say it is especially crucial to increase vaccination rates as the Delta variant continues to spread in the United States. Texas Children’s Hospital reported several of the country’s first pediatric infections on Wednesday – all occurring in children under the age of 12.
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It’s too early to say whether the Delta variant causes more serious illness in children, but experts say the variant appears to cause more symptomatic infections than the original virus.
“Because it is the most contagious variant to date based on all the data we have accumulated so far, we expect to see faster transmission of this virus from adults and adolescents to children.” said Dr James Versalovic, chief pathologist and acting chief pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital.
In the meantime, scientists are redoubling their efforts to complete clinical trials so that the Food and Drug Administration can clear the vaccine for young children as soon as possible.
Pediatric hospitals are working closely with vaccine developers like Pfizer and Moderna to combine Phase 2 and 3 trials, speeding up the process during the summer months to submit data by early fall.
“At the start of the next school year, we hope to have emergency use authorization for these COVID vaccines for children under 12 by early mid-fall,” Versalovic said. “This remains a top priority and has now added an emergency with the rapid spread of the Delta variant.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID: Children account for a growing share of new weekly cases. What there is to know.