The U.S. is now seeing an average upwards of 11,000 new hospital admissions over the last week, and the country is on track to break a hospitalization record for all ages set this past January, the CDC has said. Although initially, the original strain of Covid-19 (Alpha) was most damaging to the elderly, the Delta strain appears to be more contagious and has severely affected younger people as well as older.
“There’s no doubt there are more children getting infected,” White House medial advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters recently. “The Delta variant is much more highly transmissible than was Alpha. Given that, you will see more children likely to get infected. And even though the percentage is small, a certain percentage of children will require hospitalization. So quantitatively, you will see more children in the hospital regarding the severity of illness.”
Across the country, nearly one in five new Covid cases for the week ending August 12 has been a child, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Since the pandemic began, more than 4.4 million children have tested positive for coronavirus.
“The saddest fact is, 18 percent of all the new cases [at the Texas Medical Center] so far in August are children,” William McKeon, the center’s president and CEO, told the Houston Chronicle. Children are particularly at risk in states like Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Iowa, and South Carolina, where Republican governors have banned mask mandates in schools.
The majority of children in America — approximately 50 million — are also vulnerable because they are not yet eligible yet to receive a Covid vaccine, which has only been approved for ages 12 and up. Studies are now underway to examine the effects of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines on children younger than 12 and to determine the dose required to prompt a sufficient immune response that can prevent severe disease. One study of the Pfizer vaccine among this age group has found that a dose in one-third the amount of an adult dose may be effective for ages 5-11.
And those children may soon become eligible for vaccination, as Pfizer says it expects by September it will have collected enough data to qualify for an emergency use authorization from the FDA for ages 5-11. Moderna has said it anticipates it will apply for authorization to vaccinate that population by the end of this year.
“We’re hoping to have authorization — depending on both results and, of course, a few decisions — not too long after the school year starts,” Dr. Phil Dormitzer, chief scientific officer for viral vaccines at Pfizer, told NPR. A Pfizer spokesperson also told NPR that the company plans to submit their data for children younger than five soon afterward.
Among adults, the overwhelming majority of life-threatening Covid-19 infections are among the unvaccinated. So far, approximately 60 percent of the U.S. population eligible for the vaccine has been fully vaccinated, far below the amount needed to quell the pandemic.
“Many of our health care workers’ hearts are broken,” McKeon said. “Because we have the vaccines available, we could have avoided this devastation of our hospitals.”
The CDC also recently announced that people over the age of 12 will be eligible for booster shots of mRNA vaccines eight months after their second dose. But, the most effective thing we can do to combat the pandemic is to vaccinate the unvaccinated.