AAs paediatricians, we are committed to ensuring that children’s health comes first. However, when hospitals filled with adults with Covid-19 last year, we turned our attention to their care. Children’s hospitals across the country have been closed to make room for sick adults.
Our pediatric patients have not complained, and neither have we. Although children seemed largely spared from the virus in the initial phase of the pandemic, we saw with our own eyes the severity of a serious Covid-19-related illness in young people: More than 100 children in the intensive care units of our hospitals had to live for life. saving treatment due to Covid-19 and many others have persistent symptoms affecting their daily lives.
As the pandemic developed, youth education was at risk due to concerns about the spread of the virus in schools. Pediatricians and other researchers worked hard to assess whether children, their caregivers, and teachers could be protected from the virus by wearing face masks, social distancing, and better ventilation in classrooms or childcare facilities. They largely did.
Even so, most young people have been forced to study from home, mainly to protect adults and reduce the potential spread of Covid-19 in their communities. Now data is pouring in to show how poor children’s educational outcomes have been in the virtual arena, and we are in the midst of addressing the mental health crisis that has resulted for adolescents of all ages.
In late winter 2021, highly effective and safe vaccines were available for all adults. Yet despite all of the sacrifices children made to protect adults last year, many adults have not stood up in return for children by taking the simple steps necessary to keep children safe: get vaccinated and keep going Meet requirements for children and adults around them to wear face masks to protect unvaccinated children.
With the highly transmissible Delta variant on stage, more young people get Covid-19 than ever before, especially in undervaccinated regions of the country. Adolescents with Covid-19 fill pediatric intensive care units and many children’s hospitals are busy or overloaded.
Young people are susceptible to the Delta variant, a highly transmittable virus. They accounted for 180,000 cases of Covid-19 in the United States in the week ending August 19, accounting for about 18% of the newly reported cases, with the number of pediatric cases increasing from July, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Report Hospital Association.
This increased susceptibility of children to infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is just as millions of them return to classrooms for the new school year.
As pediatricians, we and our colleagues make child health our priority in clinical care, medical innovation, and biomedical research. We assumed that the development of Covid-19 vaccines for children would lag far behind the development for adults, so we did everything we could to support children. Vaccines have been studied in pediatric animal models, as have the response of children to the virus itself, which predicted that the immune system of early life would respond well to the existing high-potency vaccines.
Pediatricians participated in committees aimed at making the best decisions about these vaccines for the safety of all ages. Some conducted vaccine studies in children; others were compelled to involve their children in these processes, not just in the hope of protecting them but in the hope of providing immunity and protection for all children. Pediatricians spent time educating parent groups and often had difficult one-on-one interviews with parents of teenagers to expedite vaccination intake.
We and our colleagues did this when treating children seriously ill with Covid-19, some of whom developed a new disease caused by the virus (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children), as well as long distance drivers – children who continue to have symptoms long after they do cleared the infection.
Pediatricians are advocates for children and protectors of their health. So we now demand that children come first. Preserve their personal training by mandating vaccines for all eligible and wearing masks in schools. Give them the opportunity to be protected by the highly safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines. We join the American Academy of Pediatrics in calling for rapid approval of emergency vaccines for children ages 5-11, followed by younger children, with the same urgency as adults.
It is time to stand up for children who have been pushed aside since the pandemic response began. Pediatricians, parents, educators, lawmakers, and others must protect children’s education – and their lives – by giving them immunity and protection that prevent disease.
It is the children of this pandemic that we will rely on to bring us the next life-saving innovations, perhaps the ones that will prevent pandemics like Covid-19 in the first place.
Sallie Permar is Senior Pediatrician at New York-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine. She reports that she has consulted Merck, Moderna, Dynavax, and Pfizer regarding their cytomegalovirus vaccine programs. Jordan Orange is Senior Pediatrician at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. He reports as a consultant for several pharmaceutical companies, including Janssen. None of his consulting activities are in the area of vaccines.