Paul Offit, who heads the vaccine education center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says that the new mask guidance is mostly good news. «But I think that has made this world a little less safe for young children,» he says. Even a vaccinated parent can occasionally get infected with the coronavirus. There’s also a small risk that the virus can pass to an unvaccinated child.
To date, out of more than 74 million children in the United States, there have been about 300 COVID-19 deaths and a few thousand serious illnesses. By comparison, the CDC registered 188 flu-related deaths in children during the 2019–2020 flu season. Hospitalization numbers look worse for COVID-19. The CDC requires every child admitted to a hospital to be tested for the coronavirus.
Roshni Mathew, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, says experience at her hospital found that 45% of the time, a child who tested positive for the coronavirus was not actually sick with COVID-19. The findings have been published online in the journal Hospital Pediatrics. A tiny risk has a small impact on the population as a whole, but parents understandably aren’t thinking in terms of the population as a whole. The risk is continuing to decrease, as COVID-19 rates fall and the chance of encountering an unmasked person with an infection diminishes.
The challenge will be not to reassure parents about very low risks but to convince them to get their children vaccinated, to drive that low risk down even more. Right now, children 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but the vaccines are being tested in younger children. Once children are eligible, COVID-19 «becomes a vaccine-preventable infection,» Mathew says, «so you’d take every opportunity to prevent every single pediatric death». Only about two-thirds of children end up being vaccinated for the flu.
And vaccination is important not just for their own sake, but because children are a major reason that the flu spreads rapidly through communities. Health officials are likely to confront a similar challenge to convince parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19.
Source: Richard Harris | NPR