Push to vaccinate children accelerates as pediatric COVID-19 cases rise

(NEW YORK) — The rush to vaccinate children against COVID-19 is accelerating amid a steady increase in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations nationwide.

Last week, nearly 142,000 child coronavirus cases were recorded, with weekly infections among children up by more than 40% since late October, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA).

Nationally, new coronavirus cases among all age groups have been increasing for the last three weeks, with the average now topping 92,000 new cases a day. Thirty-one states, as well as Washington, D.C., have seen an uptick in daily cases of 10% or more in the past two weeks.

Last week, children accounted for about a quarter of reported weekly COVID-19 cases, despite individuals under age 18 only making up 22.2% of the U.S. population. Regionally, the Midwest continues to see the highest number of pediatric cases, as the area experiences a notable viral resurgence with winter arriving across the region.

The nation has also seen an uptick in pediatric hospital admissions, alongside other age groups. Although hospitalization totals are still significantly lower than during the nation’s most recent summer surge, across the country, just under 1,250 children are hospitalized with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection. Ohio currently leads the country with 168 children receiving care, followed by Texas with 120 children.

Amid this viral resurgence, health experts are urging parents to get their eligible children vaccinated.

COVID-19 “is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in children,” Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, said during a briefing Wednesday with the National Press Foundation. Vaccines are a “safe and simple intervention,” she said, and significantly lower the risk of severe illness.

Earlier this month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky reported the agency had seen a surge of interest in pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations, following emergency use authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

“We’re seeing strong demand for COVID vaccinations among children ages 5 to 11 across the country with hundreds of thousands of appointments booked for the next few weeks,” Walensky said at the time.

Approximately one-third of children ages 5-17 have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to recently updated federal data. In the last two weeks alone, 2 million children ages 5-11 years-old have received their first dose.

If parents get their children vaccinated now, they will be able to be fully vaccinated by the later winter holidays, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“We now have vaccines that are highly effective and clearly very safe, particularly now with the recent data showing that we can vaccinate children from 5 through 11,” Fauci said. “There are 28 million children within that age category. If we started vaccinating them now, they’ll be fully protected by Christmas.”

Although severe illness due to COVID-19 remains “uncommon” among children, the two organizations wrote, there is an “urgent” need to collect more data on the long-term consequences of the pandemic on children, “including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.”

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