The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of people worldwide since its outbreak in late 2019. As the pandemic has progressed, we have learned much about the disease, including its effects on children. In the United States, there have been nearly 10 million cases of COVID-19 among children, and although the majority of cases are mild or asymptomatic, the virus has still taken a toll on this vulnerable population.
Children and COVID-19: What We Know
COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which primarily spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. The virus can also spread through contact with contaminated surfaces and objects.
In the early stages of the pandemic, it was believed that children were less likely to contract the virus and less likely to spread it to others. However, as more data became available, it became clear that children could become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and spread it to others.
Children can experience a range of symptoms from COVID-19, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. In some cases, children may experience a rash or pink eye. However, many children who become infected with SARS-CoV-2 are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms.
Despite the relatively low rate of severe illness among children, there have been cases of severe illness and even death. Children with underlying medical conditions, such as asthma or obesity, are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Additionally, there have been cases of a rare but serious complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), which can cause inflammation in various organs and can be life-threatening.
Current Landscape of COVID-19 in Children in the United States
As of February 2023, the United States has reported nearly 10 million cases of COVID-19 among children under the age of 18. Children currently make up approximately 20% of all COVID-19 cases in the country. The Delta variant, which is highly contagious, has caused a surge in cases among children in recent months.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) have been tracking COVID-19 cases in children since the beginning of the pandemic. According to their data, the number of COVID-19 cases among children in the United States has been on the rise since mid-2021. In the week ending February 19, 2023, there were 94,183 new cases of COVID-19 among children, which is the highest weekly total since the beginning of the pandemic.
The rise in cases among children is concerning, especially as many schools have reopened for in-person learning. Children are more likely to be in close contact with others in school settings, which can increase the risk of transmission. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status, some states have opted not to implement these measures, which may further increase the risk of transmission.
The vaccination rate among children in the United States is also a concern. As of February 2023, children aged 5-11 became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which is currently the only vaccine authorized for use in this age group. However, the vaccination rate among children in this age group is still low, with only about 40% of eligible children having received at least one dose of the vaccine as of February 2023.
The vaccination rate among adolescents aged 12-17 is somewhat higher, with approximately 65% of eligible adolescents having received at least one dose of the vaccine as of February 2023. However, this is still lower than the overall vaccination rate among adults in the United States.
The lower vaccination rate among children is partly due to vaccine hesitancy among parents. Some parents are concerned about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, while others believe that their children are at low risk of severe illness and therefore do not need to be vaccinated. There are also logistical barriers to vaccination, such as difficulty accessing vaccine clinics or scheduling appointments.
The CDC recommends that all eligible individuals, including children, receive the COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves and others from the virus. Vaccination is particularly important for children with underlying medical conditions, who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
The current landscape of COVID-19 in children in the United States is concerning, with a high number of cases and a low vaccination rate among eligible children. As the pandemic continues, it is important to prioritize the health and safety of children.
Schools should continue to implement mitigation measures, such as universal masking, to reduce the risk of transmission among students and staff. Parents should also consider getting their children vaccinated, as the vaccine is safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 and its complications.
In addition, ongoing research is needed to better understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 on children. While many children may experience only mild symptoms, there may be long-term health consequences that are not yet fully understood. Monitoring the health of children who have recovered from COVID-19 will be important in the coming years.
In conclusion, COVID-19 continues to impact children in the United States, and the current landscape is concerning. However, there are steps that can be taken to protect children from the virus, including vaccination and mitigation measures in schools. Ongoing research and monitoring of the health of children affected by COVID-19 will also be important in the years to come.