NIH Director Says 'Kids Are Very Seriously At Risk' Amid Delta Spread

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Given that children under 12 are still ineligible to receive vaccinations, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins warns that the worst of the pandemic is still to come, and kids are particularly vulnerable

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise nationwide due in large part to the highly infectious Delta variant, health experts and public officials fear that back-to-school season — which will bring students across the country together for in-person classes — poses a serious threat to students, particularly those under 12, who have yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Given that several states have dropped mask mandates and social distancing measures, it’s clear why parents and health experts alike are worried for those who are not yet protected by the vaccine. Dr. Francis Collins, the National Institutes of Health Director, appeared on Fox News Sunday yesterday to emphasize just how serious the risk is to those who are not yet fully vaccinated, warning that those 90 million Americans are “sitting ducks for this virus” right now.

As the U.S. is seeing a record spike in daily cases (at a current seven-day average of 120,000), Collins told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace he expects we’ll hit a staggering 200,000 cases per day within a matter of weeks. “This is going very steeply upward with no signs of having peaked out… and that’s heartbreaking considering we never thought we’d be back in that space again. That was January, February [before vaccines were widely available to Americans]. That shouldn’t be August.”

“Here we are with Delta variant, which is so contagious, and this heartbreaking situation where 90 million people are still unvaccinated who are sitting ducks for this virus, and that’s the mess we’re in,” Collins said. “We’re in a world of hurt, and it’s a critical juncture to try and do everything we can to turn that around.”

Collins also eschewed the commonly held belief that the virus doesn’t pose a threat to children, citing the rise in pediatric cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, with 121,427 child COVID-19 cases reported the week of August 5, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics — and that’s before most kids began the new school year.

“Right now, we have almost 2,000 kids in the hospital, many of them in ICUs, some of them under the age of four,” said Collins. “So, anybody who tries to tell you, ‘Well, don’t worry about the kids, the virus won’t really bother them,’ that’s not the evidence,” Collins said. “And especially with Delta being so contagious, kids are very seriously at risk, and it’s up to all of us to do everything we can to protect them as well as we’re trying to protect everybody else at the same time.”

Collins expressed that mask usage is perhaps now more important than ever, especially as kids head back to the classroom. “The schools that have started to open without mask requirements, outbreaks are happening,” he said. “And what happens then? Kids are sent home for virtual learning, which is what we were trying to avoid. It’s really unfortunate that politics and polarization have gotten in the way of a simple public health measure. This mask I’m holding somehow became a symbol it shouldn’t have been.”

Protecting those most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 is still so crucial, which is why getting your vaccine as soon as you’re eligible and continuing to wear a mask isn’t just a call to action, it’s a call to arms — and it’s a fight we all need to face head-on.