Vaccines are available to kids 5-11. What you need to know.
On Nov. 2, the Centers for Disease Control formally recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11, providing some relief to families seeking to protect their children from COVID-19.
One of the most prominent falsehoods of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the potentially deadly virus doesn’t affect children. As of late July, more than 4 million U.S. children had tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. That number represents 14% of all COVID-19 cases. In Colorado, the proportion is even higher — 17% of the state’s case count comprised people younger than 19.
“In absolute numbers, COVID is causing more harm to kids than influenza, which we consider to be a serious condition for kids, even in a typical year,” says Children’s Hospital Colorado pediatric infectious disease expert Sean O’Leary, MD, MPH. “While children are less likely to become severely ill from the virus that causes COVID-19, kids can get and spread the virus, they can get sick, and some have been hospitalized. Some children have even died, though fortunately deaths have been very rare.
“We don’t want to add to families’ stress, but we do want parents and children to continue to take COVID-19 seriously enough to maintain precautions — including and especially getting all family members vaccinated as soon as possible.”
As restrictions ease and more adults get vaccinated, kids are mingling more, too. This means that children are making up a larger proportion of total cases. “It’s simple math,” says Dr. O’Leary, “but it’s a reminder that the virus is still spreading in unvaccinated populations.”
Plus, as variants like delta develop, side effects could be more serious for kids who are infected. Delta emerged because of uncontrolled spread, and more dangerous variants could also emerge if uncontrolled spread continues.
Masking, distancing, and handwashing are all critical, effective tools for stopping the spread of the virus among children.
COVID-19 complications in kids
Not only can kids get sick with and spread COVID-19, some of the kids who get infected are experiencing complications beyond the initial infection.
Although most children recover from COVID within six days, 4.4% experience symptoms for four weeks, and 1.8% feel it for eight weeks or longer. This phenomenon is known as “long COVID,” or post-acute COVID-19 syndrome (PACS) — when symptoms continue or new symptoms begin in the weeks or months after someone has had the coronavirus. Common symptoms include increased fatigue, difficulty thinking or concentrating, an ongoing cough, painful joints and muscles, dizziness upon standing, headaches and more.
“Pediatricians are well equipped to help kids who have enduring symptoms of COVID-19,” says David Brumbaugh, MD, Children’s Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer. “If you’re concerned your child’s health hasn’t returned to normal, their primary care team can make practical recommendations to get them back on track.”
Children may also experience a loss of taste and smell after contracting COVID-19, though they can have a tougher time expressing it. Pediatric ear, nose and throat doctor Kenny Chan, MD, warns parents not to write off complaints that could ordinarily be perceived as picky eating.
A rare but deadly condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) can also cause dangerous inflammation in multiple organs, including the heart and brain, even in children who had mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19. Kids who develop MIS-C need care in the hospital, many in intensive care.
COVID’s ‘unseen’ side effects
The pandemic has also wreaked emotional havoc on children, whether they have lost a parent or caregiver to the virus, battled anxiety and depression, or struggled to adapt to a new routine.
“I’ve been in practice for over 20 years in pediatrics and I’ve never seen anything like the demand for mental health services we’ve seen in the past 15 months,” Dr. Brumbaugh says. “There have been many weeks in 2021 that the number one reason for presenting to our emergency department is a suicide attempt. Our kids have run out of resilience — their tanks are empty.”
Parents can help by taking steps to restore some normalcy in their children’s lives. In addition to securing vaccinations, kids should participate in safe, in-person learning while wearing masks.
For more info on how COVID-19 affects kids, as well as info on how to get the vaccines for kids ages 5 and up, read the full article, “Children and COVID-19: Debunking the Number One Myth” at childrenscolorado.org.