No coronavirus vaccines are approved for anyone under age 12, and right now, kids of all ages are suffering from a massive spike in new COVID infections. Last week, about 94,000 new cases were reported, and children make up about 15% of new infections, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.
Doctors are seeing patients as young as just a few weeks old come down with serious symptoms. Any treatments used to help curb some of the virus’ most intense symptoms, like monoclonal antibodies, are not approved for kids under 12.
Many of these kids are getting it from unvaccinated family or community members, says Dr. Michael Neely, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“Many children are not eligible for vaccines and unfortunately, those who are eligible may not have received their vaccines yet. And so the virus has to go somewhere. It's going into the susceptible population, those who are at risk for actually being able to contract it and get sick.”
He says the number of children with COVID at the hospital has tripled in the last week. The youngest patient is 2 weeks old and is currently on oxygen.
Ahead of the new school year, Neely is urging parents with eligible children to get them vaccinated. “If they're old enough to get vaccinated, run, don't walk, to the nearest place where you can get it, and you can get it for free in so many, so many places. Get that vaccine for your eligible adolescent.”
If they’re not of age, he recommends wearing masks indoors or uncrowded outdoor areas. He also encourages parents to set up playdates with vaccinated families.
“I would avoid families who have decided not to be vaccinated because the adults are certainly at risk of getting infected and bringing it to the kids. The more vaccinated individuals there are in the family, the more those young children are going to be protected. Try to schedule playdates and things outside when possible, take advantage of our good weather in Southern California.”
After seeing schools enforce constant safety protocols, Neely says kids are relatively safe when returning to classrooms.
“These measures work. They protect children. And goodness knows we've learned as a society what the damage has been to our children from being out of school for a year. And we don't want to go back there again. So yes, I do believe it's safe to send your child to school as long as the school is able to follow those protocols.”
Neely says Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has the capacity for the surge of children’s COVID cases, but he says that is not the case in other states where vaccination rates are low.
“My colleagues are telling you that their pediatric intensive care units, their hospitals are full and overflowing, and children there are dying. It's a direct relationship to the vaccine uptake in the community.”
He adds, “People may think, ‘Oh, this isn't going to happen to me.’ I can guarantee you every one of my patients in the hospital with COVID did not think it was going to happen to them. They may say, ‘Oh, the risk is low. I don't want to take any risk of getting a vaccine for my child.’ Well, look what happens to states that aren't vaccinating their children or their adults. Their hospitals are full. And this is not where we want to be in California.”