As a pediatric nurse practitioner at Seattle Children’s Hospital
Emergency care clinic, Lynn Pittsinger sees it with her own eyes: the increase in the number of children showing symptoms of COVID-19, positive tests for the disease and, ultimately, hospitalizations for it.
She is also seeing an unfortunate trend among parents and caregivers of her young patients: many of them are not yet vaccinated.
“I am very concerned about this,” says Pittsinger, who is also a public health nurse supervisor for the Whatcom County Health Department (WCHD). âThe only real way to protect children in this pandemic is for everyone who has the right to be vaccinated and to mask themselves. “
While adults in the United States are still infected with COVID-19 at a much higher rate than children, the increase in the Delta variant has resulted in a substantial increase in the number of sick children.
Since August 1, more than 57,000 children nationwide have been hospitalized according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In the last week of August, Seattle Children’s recorded its first death from COVID-19. Nationally, more than 430 children have died from the disease since the start of the pandemic and, so far, no child under the age of 12 can be vaccinated against it.
And of course, children aren’t just affected by their own infections. Many unvaccinated parents die from COVID-19, leaving their children orphaned. The United States, Pittsinger says, now has the fourth highest number of children orphaned due to COVID-19 of any country in the world. âI know these parents would do anything for their kids,â she said. âIf they had cancer, they would get it treated so they could stay healthy for their children. It’s the same idea with the vaccine: it’s a simple injection that can keep them from getting seriously ill, so they can be there to take care of their children.
After treating a 3-year-old who contracted the disease twice, Pittsinger says she is baffled by those who think COVID-19 immunity is best gained through exposure rather than vaccination. In many cases, being convinced of the need for vaccination comes at a very high cost: people on their deathbed advocate for the vaccine, and the deaths of spouses or children finally wake up the unvaccinated.
Although local children with severe cases of COVID-19 are currently rare in Whatcom County, WCHD co-health worker Amy Harley says they have happened. Greg Thompson, the other WCHD co-health worker who works at Skagit Valley Hospital as an employee of Seattle Children’s Hospital, says the chances of seeing more sick children increase with the overall number of infections in the community.
âThe general number of children we see with COVID is increasing,â he says. âIn fact, the under-18 age group is the fastest growing age group in Whatcom County with COVID now.â
While local hospitals like the one in Bellingham PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center and Skagit County Skagit Valley Hospital– where Harley and Thompson work as hospital pediatricians respectively – have been spared the filling of pediatric units seen in states hit hard by the latest wave of COVID-19, Harley says this does not guarantee local pediatric care will not be compromise in the future.
“The limitations of the health system in general at present, with limited capacity, could certainly have an impact on our ability to care for large numbers of sick children, whatever the cause,” says -she.
Back to school
With the children back to school for in-person learning, the Whatcom County Health Department is working with local school districts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 using all available prevention methods.
This includes the compulsory vaccination of all educators, the wearing of masks for everyone and the suggested vaccination of all children 12 years of age and over.
While Harley says some parents have expressed concern over why their kids are back in classrooms amid another wave, she says it’s clear that in-person learning is the key. best for kids. The classroom promotes better learning outcomes, access to healthy foods and physical activity, and vital emotional and social growth.
âWe are working to make schools as safe as possible, given the challenges we are facing right now,â she said. âBeing in school is essential for children’s health in many ways. “
With children and parents taking more steps in classrooms and offices than they did a year ago, masking is especially important to protect children who are not yet eligible for vaccination.
Pittsinger says it’s important to wear masks in any public place, regardless of vaccination status, especially indoors or when distance is not possible. Pittsinger, Harley, and Thompson have all seen newborns diagnosed with symptomatic COVID-19, which is why Pittsinger suggests that if you have to bring an infant into a public space, even pulling the shield on a baby carrier can provide some. level of protection.
Currently, children under five are hospitalized with COVID-19 at a higher rate than those over five, Thompson says.
Stay healthy, stay happy
While there is still no timeline for the Food and Drug Administration‘s clearance for immunization in children under 12, Harley says it’s possible an FDA decision could be taken before October 31. The likely scenario is the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. (The vaccine is already fully approved for use in people 16 years of age and older.)
Currently, Harley and Thompson say that having as many people vaccinated as possible in the life of an unvaccinated child can help provide a “cocoon” of protection. In addition to masking, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and good hand hygiene, symptom monitoring is a great way to avoid spreading or contracting COVID-19.
âAs soon as someone has respiratory symptoms – whether it looks like a cold, especially with a fever, a headache, or any of those things – get assessed or tested,â says Thompson. âIf you have symptoms, you need to self-isolate until you test negative. Isolating quickly prevents you from spreading it if you have it.
While reluctance to immunize continues to exist, Harley says that right now – with children back to school, a more contagious variant circulating and a likely increase in seasonal influenza transmission – is a pivotal moment in which you can help protect vulnerable children.
âWe know these vaccines are safe and effective, even for children as young as 12,â she says. âIf there was a time to change your mind about immunization – if you had leaned on it before and are considering it now – now is the time. “
Thompson agrees. More than 5 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed worldwide, and it is clear that their safety and effectiveness outweighs a roll of the dice to acquire immunity through infection.
âWe’ve seen a lot of people with chronic disease caused by infection,â he says. âVaccines are our best way to prevent hospitalization, prevent death, and prevent long-term complications from COVID. “
As the Delta variant continues to stifle a return to normalcy before the pandemic and continues to frustrate many local residents, Thompson has one final piece of advice. It is not medical in nature, but just a simple request: be nice.
âI know there are a lot of very polarizing and entrenched opinions, but be kind to your health care providers, be kind to the children around you, be kind to your teachers, and be kind to people whose you don’t agree with the opinions, âhe says. âJust be nice. Because once COVID is over, we are still neighbors. “