With holiday gatherings right around the corner, public health officials are sounding the alarm about a surge in pediatric COVID cases
With the holiday season officially upon us and many families planning travel and gatherings, public health officials are sounding the alarm about a worrying trend they see in COVID cases across the nation: There’s an ongoing surge in cases in children that has seen a 32 percent increase in pediatric cases in the last two weeks alone.
From Nov. 11 to Nov. 18, more than 140,000 children tested positive for the virus, up from 107,000 the week before, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. Children under age 18 make up about 22 percent of the U.S. population, and now account for about 25 percent of the country’s COVID caseload. This comes just weeks after COVID vaccines were granted emergency use authorization for kids ages 5-11, and health officials are racing to get as many kids vaccinated as possible ahead of the holidays and winter months.
“Is there cause for concern? Absolutely,” Dr. Sean O’Leary, the vice-chair of the academy’s infectious diseases committee, said on Monday.
There’s some debate about what’s causing the surge in pediatric COVID cases. Dr. O’Leary said it’s driven by an increase in cases overall, and added that children make up a larger percentage of all cases because vaccines have been widely available for adults for much longer. Children are currently the least-vaccinated age group in the U.S. O’Leary also said that many schools have begun softening their safety protocols, allowing the virus to spread more readily in classrooms.
Over the summer and early fall, cases of COVID in children led surges in states with the lowest vaccination rates. But now, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children’s cases are rising fastest in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire — states with some of the highest vaccination rates in the nation. Children’s cases are also rising sharply in New Mexico, Minnesota, and Michigan, which is the state currently leading the nation in surging cases among all age groups.
Health officials are particularly concerned to see cases in children rising so sharply before the holidays, and are urging parents who haven’t made plans to vaccinate their kids to do so as soon as possible.
“Everything about this virus is unpredictable,” Dr. David Kimberlin, an infectious disease pediatrician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told NPR. “And we need to do everything we can to protect ourselves and to protect our children against what this virus is very capable of doing.”
Dr. Amanda Cohn, a member of the FDA advisory committee that granted emergency use authorization to the children’s dose of the vaccine, said at the time that “COVID-19 is now a vaccine-preventable disease from my perspective.”
“It’s the 8th highest killer of kids in this age group over the past year,” she added. “The use of this vaccine will prevent deaths, ICU admissions and will prevent significant long-term adverse outcomes in children.”