COVID-19 in Kids Update: Expert Weighs in On Rising Cases, Vaccine Updates and Preparing for Upcoming Travel Season
Now over 2 years of continuing to battle with Covid-19, there is still new information, surges, and variants coming up often. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as of May 19, 2022, “almost 13.3 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic according to available state reports; over 316,000 of these cases have been added in the past 4 weeks”.
We sat down with Dr. Rebekah Diamond, Hospital Pediatrician in New York City and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University, to weigh in all of the updates regarding the virus and how parents should be prepared as they get ready for a busy upcoming travel season.
Covid cases in the past few weeks have continued to go up, especially in younger children. What factors could be playing into this spike?
Because we aren’t doing anything to stop covid. The best way to think about it is we did not contain Covid. We’ve had recurring spikes as we have new variants emerge and we don’t have the global vaccine uptake or the preventive measures that we need.
It mutates quickly and it has vaccine escape and we don’t have good vaccine uptake either so with mask mandates totally leaving and air becoming completely unregulated even more so and everyone is sort of just living a very unrestricted life for the most part. Yes it’s not surprising that cases are going to come back up.
What are parents most worried about when it comes to their children potentially being exposed/coming down with covid?
I think there are a few ways to think about it. One is that it’s really hard to balance this anymore. It’s been two years and the youngest kids still can’t get vaccinated, which is really outrageous and really frustrating for parents. So we’ve worn past the point, myself included, for parents to say we can still stay in complete lockdown.
Exposure is unavoidable for the most part, even if you are still wearing a mask and if you want to do any activities, exposure is more or less unavoidable. I think parents’ concerns are one, there is just the emotional component of how we’ve spent so much time sacrificing activities and doing our best to wait until our kids could be vaccinated and society would not support that.
They wouldn’t prioritize getting kids a vaccine, they also wouldn’t prioritize getting kids back to normal life and having some minor inconveniences in the process. So I think there’s that large element of things.
Covid is new, we’re learning more about it every day, but we know that it’s a serious virus. We know that children can get very sick and even die, it’s much more rare than in older people and adults but it’s possible, especially severe acute sickness. It’s also that there are long term effects, long Covid does happen to kids, MISC (Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children) is a condition that happens in children so I think there are some real health concerns.
There’s also just this idea of how on earth do we balance trying to have some sort of normalcy in a society that isn’t really prioritizing that for kids, but also not doing some sort of basic Covid protection.
Pfizer has recently come out with a statement saying that they have found 3 doses of the vaccine has resulted in a strong immune response for children ages 6 months to 5 years. What are some of your initial thoughts about this statement?
I think it’s great! Obviously we’ll still need to see the full data for Pfizer and Moderna. I think we’ve had a lot of promising data for a long time now and so I’m a fan of getting that information submitted and reviewed as urgently as possible, but the fact of the matter is we know that vaccines in adults and kids over age five are great.
Nothing is 100 percent effective but they help prevent infection and they’re very good at preventing severe disease and long term effects as well.
What would you say to parents who are nervous about vaccinating their younger children?
I talk to parents about this both when I do social media stuff online and also I talk about nearly everyday at work with patients and parents who may be hesitant.
The first thing to say, and I always say this, is that it makes sense. There is a lot of information out there- a lot of it is just wrong information or some of it is intentionally wrong trying to make you afraid of vaccines, and it’s something new.
So being nervous is totally ok and it makes sense but the reality is that there is not a single doubt in any reputable, scientific person who’s a pediatric expert and really cares about protecting kids’ health, there is not a doubt in our minds that these vaccines are necessary and that they are absolutely safe and that they are affected in the ways that they need to be.
The reality is Covid is here, Covid exposure is completely unavoidable. You are not deciding between do I give this child a vaccine or do I do nothing, you’re deciding between does my child get exposed to Covid with vaccine protection or do they get exposed to Covid without vaccine protection.
My other advise if there are still any doubts, which is ok if there are) is to really seek out reputable sources, people who haven’t been affected by misinformation and/or anti science agendas, talk to your pediatrician, follow reputable accounts and ask all of your questions. We are happy to go through any concerns but to me it’s been one of the easier decisions I’ve had to make as a parent.
With cases rising again and Philadelphia deciding whether or not to reinstate mask mandates in school. Do you think other states will follow even though the school year is almost over?
I think it’s hard to tell. Unfortunately science has become integrated with partisan politics and it’s really challenging to know the difference that will happen at the city, county and state level and then at the federal level.
It’s become kind of hopelessly politicized so I think it’s really hard to tell what is going to happen at the end of the day. You can keep advocating to your state and to your local board to follow common sense scientific policies and then beyond that, you just have to know that you’re doing everything you can as a parent to make the best choices possible, to balance the risks of doing something and the risks of not doing something and that the best thing you can do to protect your kids is that soon as they are eligible to get vaccinated. That really provides so much protection to their body that when the Covid exposure happens that is really an amazing thing you can do to protect them.
With the summer season right around the corner and families getting ready to travel more, what is some advice so families can keep their kids safe?
Vaccines,Vaccines,Vaccines. If you’re eligible for a booster get your booster, if you’re eligible to start your series definitely go ahead and do that. Masks being optional is to me not necessarily the best phrasing of that.
I view that when I see masks optional, especially now with masks recommended, obviously they are saying that they aren’t requiring it but if you’re in a place that is indoors and there’s enough reason that there is going to be a sign about masking that’s because there’s enough of a crowd and enough of a risk of transmission. And the reality is that especially now with cases rising, there is a very reasonable likelihood of Covid exposure kind of no matter what kind of travel you do.
I would say get a mask that is fitting and comfortable for you and your kids if they’re old enough to wear a mask, a higher quality mask like a KF-94 an N95, KN95 are better. If you’re doing activities in the summer that can be outdoors versus indoors that would be great too.
If you’re going on trips with people or are doing things and people are reluctant to get vaccinated or aren’t going to take precautions that you’re comfortable with, feel free to set whatever boundaries you need as a parent. People know we just have to do what we can to protect children who can’t be vaccinated.
Dr. Rebekah Diamond is a pediatrician hospital in New York City and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University. She is the author of the forthcoming book “Parent Like a Pediatrician.” Follow her on Instagram @parentlikeapediatrician
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