September 29, 2021
Suzanne P. Clark
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to evolve as the country seeks to adopt measures to protect its families and communities. Infections and hospitalizations are down in parts of the country, showing measured progress. However, the contagious Delta variant is still spreading throughout the globe and the pandemic is starting to affect children now more than ever before.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation spoke with members of the pediatric healthcare community about the rising pediatric COVID-19, preventative measures that should be taken in schools, children’s mental health during the pandemic, and when to expect a COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 through 11.
Pediatric COVID-19 Cases Are Rising Compared to Last Year
Children now account for 27% of all COVID-19 cases, up from 3% earlier in the pandemic. This is due in part to the Delta variant’s transmissibility as well as schools and businesses opening back up, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“It's because they're a susceptible group, and now they're all together,” he continued. “This is not what you'd necessarily like, which is to have a large group of susceptible people in one place with a virus that's highly transmissible.”
The bright side is, fewer children are dying of COVID-19 now that medical professionals are understanding how to treat it, said Dr. Kris Deeter, an ICU pediatrician at Renown Regional Medical Center.
“We do know what to do to help them,“ said Dr. Deeter. “Most of these kids are receiving excellent immediate care — the care that they need to turn around and get through the virus.”
Leaders Should Take Proactive Steps to Protect School Children
Kids going back to school have been a point of contention and fear for many parents and communities. It’s up to leaders to take a proactive approach to protect children in schools, said Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“One thing that we absolutely recommend … is immunization [of] adolescents ages 12 and up, and all the adults in the school building,” said Dr. Beers. “Universal masking is one of those things we know that’s simple, safe and effective. We’re seeing increasing evidence … [that] there's much less spread of COVID within the schools that are using masking.”
“There’s a variety of other measures, [such as] ventilation, handwashing, [and] frequent and rapid testing availability,” Dr. Beers added. “All of these are important pieces of that layered strategy.”
Children’s Mental and Emotional Health Have Declined During the Pandemic
Recent CDC data shows that between April 2020 to October 2020, there was a 24% increase in school-aged children and a 31% increase in adolescents seeking emergency treatment for mental health-related concerns.
“I think the biggest challenges that are facing them are the biggest challenges that are facing us as adults as well,” said Dr. Rachel Kentor, a pediatric psychologist at Texas Children’s Hospital. “[They’re feeling] the uncertainty of everything, particularly because we've had this ‘forward and stop’ progress.”
“I think a lot of it comes down to being mindful about what we're teaching them and what we're showing them,” Dr. Kentor continued. “So allowing that open dialogue [and] not being afraid to ask questions about how they're feeling [will help them].”
COVID-19 Vaccine EUA Approval for Children Is Expected by the End of October 2021
Pfizer recently submitted data for its COVID-19 vaccine’s effectiveness on children ages 5 to 11, and Dr. Offit hopes the emergency authorized approval will come through by the end of October.
“Things should happen fairly quickly [if] the data are consistent with a vaccine that is safe,” he said. “I can tell you that, being on the FDA vaccine advisory committee, we would not approve these vaccines under emergency use authorization unless they meet a particular standard.”