New cases of covid-19 among children have risen again after months of declines, just as schools in the United States are preparing to reopen in a few weeks.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said Tuesday that more than 23,550 cases of covid in minors were reported between July 8 and 15, almost double what was reported at the end of June.
Age ranges vary by state, according to the group’s most recent report, with more than half of the states defining children as anyone 19 and younger, and two states, Utah and Florida, limiting the range to anyone 14 years of age or younger.
The AAP said severe illness remains rare among minors, but with COVID-19 cases increasing across most of the country once again, experts warned that delayed vaccinations and the fierce delta variant could mean problems for the nation’s youngest, many of whom are not yet eligible for a vaccine.
“So many people, unvaccinated individuals, are getting delta that children are being swept away with it, and I think this will make things very difficult as the school year begins,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
On Tuesday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also stressed the need to take seriously the virus and its threat to children.
“I think we fall for this misconception of saying that only 400 of these 600,000 deaths from covid-19 have been in children,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a Health, Education Commission hearing. “Children are not supposed to die. So 400 is a huge number for the respiratory season.”
No COVID-19 vaccine has yet been given the green light for Americans under the age of 12. And while pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna are conducting clinical trials, it will likely take months for younger children to receive a vaccine.
Vaccine data for the youngest probably still months away
It is “highly likely” that data from covid-19 vaccines in children under 12 will be available in late fall or early winter, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday, at the hearing of the Senate commission.
“But it doesn’t mean that it will suddenly be allowed to happen,” he said. “That will be a regulatory decision for the FDA to make.”
Late last week, Fauci told Citizen Free Press’s Jim Acosta that he believed a decision by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “probably won’t happen until we are well into winter, towards the end of this year”.
Pfizer’s data from its 5- to 11-year-old vaccine study could arrive sometime in September, and based on the findings, the company previously told Citizen Free Press that it could ask the FDA for an emergency use authorization that very month.
Data for children ages 2 to 5 could come soon after, while for infants and toddlers (6 months to 2 years) Pfizer said it could get data in October or November and ask the FDA to authorize emergency use. shortly after that.
Moderna previously declined to provide a timeline to Citizen Free Press on when it may have the test data results for its childhood vaccine study.
Many eligible minors are not yet vaccinated
With a significant number of students still not allowed to get vaccinated, the AAP released new guidance Monday recommending universal use of masks in schools for all people 2 years of age and older, regardless of vaccination status.
The group’s position is stricter than the CDC’s guidance, which recommended earlier this month that anyone 2 years and older who is not fully vaccinated should wear masks indoors.
But health experts agree that the more children that get vaccinated, the safer they will return to school.
“I think it is vitally important that our schools are open for full face-to-face learning in the fall,” Walensky said at Tuesday’s hearing. And the “most important” thing Americans can do to help, he said, is get vaccinated.
“The best thing would be to vaccinate everyone who can be vaccinated,” he added. “Surround unvaccinated children who are not yet eligible with people who are vaccinated to protect them.”
Of the roughly 25 million children ages 12 to 17 in the United States, roughly 8.9 million have started their covid-19 vaccinations, according to CDC data.
Having to figure out which children are vaccinated and who should wear masks “puts a lot of burden” on schools, said one expert, and having mask mandates for everyone, especially as the delta variant circulates, would make it easier for students. go back to school, an expert told Citizen Free Press on Tuesday.
“You’re going to have a lot of kids under 12 who don’t even have the option to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Center for Vaccine Education at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“If I were the father of a child of that age, I would like all those children to wear masks,” he added.
An official expects ‘significant’ outbreaks in schools
Despite the experts’ recommendations, some states have already enacted laws prohibiting districts from requiring masks in schools, setting up another possible round of clashes between health and local leaders across the country.
Among those states is Arkansas, where Law 977 states that receiving a covid-19 vaccine “will not be a condition for education.”
The state’s top health official said Tuesday that he expects to see “significant outbreaks within the school system.”
“What that is telling me is going to happen is the number of daycare closures that have occurred due to the outbreaks, and the exposures and camp closures that are occurring,” said Dr. José Romero, health secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health at a US News and World Report event on vaccine inequity and misinformation.
“What I am trying to do publicly and privately with my own patients is to emphasize the importance of the mask.”
The state has a major children’s hospital that has already had a “significant number” of children with COVID-19, Romero said, which, along with cases of other respiratory viruses, has depleted the facility’s resources.
“In three weeks, when we start school, this will get worse, and that’s what worries me a lot, a lot,” Romero said.
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