Q: Do kids get COVID?
A: Yes, unfortunately they do.
A very bright lady asked me the other day if kids get COVID. At first, I was surprised by the question. But a moment’s reflection helped me realize that for most of the country, COVID is an adult disease.
But I work in a children’s hospital, in a unit that sees 1,200 pediatric admissions per year, and I saw plenty of children catch COVID and get sick from it.
I saw children get sick 6 to 8 weeks after their mild COVID infection, with a post-COVID inflammatory condition called MIS-C. All of these children were admitted to the hospital. Some needed oxygen for a few days and then went home. Some needed oxygen and intravenous fluids. Some needed intubation and mechanical ventilation. And a few children needed oxygen, fluids and intubation, plus medications to support their blood pressure and heart function.
We did not have any pediatric deaths from COVID in my unit. But I did hear reports of at least two children in the state who died from COVID-related illness.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has done an excellent job of keeping track of pediatric COVID statistics, and making them available on their website, services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/children-and-covid-19-state-level-data-report.
Looking at those numbers, with data collected as of July 1, we see that the child population (0 to 19 years old) of the U.S. is 75,266,842. The total U.S. child COVID cases since the start of the pandemic is 4,044,884, which is 14% of all U.S. COVID cases. This is expressed as a national child COVID rate of 5,374 cases per 100,000 children.
Of these 4 million COVID infected children, 16,520 were hospitalized. In other words, 2.2% of all COVID hospitalizations were children.
There were childhood deaths due to COVID — 335 total in the country. Childhood COVID death were 0.06% of all COVID deaths.
When trying to assess the worst impact of COVID on children, one might compare this virus to the influenza virus. Every year, the influenza virus causes illness in children and adults, and it causes death. Childhood deaths from influenza have been reported to state health departments since 1994. In the 2019-2020 influenza season there were 188 total pediatric influenza deaths. In this, our first year of SARS-CoV-2, there were a total of 335 pediatric COVID deaths — almost double the number of childhood deaths due to influenza.
New Mexico specific data shows that we have 531,712 children and 37,676 COVID positive children. New Mexico had a total of 205,542 cases. Children made up 18% of all COVID cases in our state. This is higher than the national average of 14%.
Only nine states reported a childhood COVID rate of 18% or higher, and New Mexico is one of them. New Mexico’s child COVID rate is 7,085 cases per 100,000 children. This is almost 30% higher than the national average of 5,374 cases per 100,000 children. Florida has the lowest reported child COVID rate, but the state stopped reporting its data in February, and Vermont having the highest.
As of June 23, 7.7 million U.S. children under age 18 had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, this includes 5.4 million children who are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts are saying that unless we can get better vaccination coverage by the fall, we’re almost certainly going to see a fall surge of child COVID cases, most likely along with other common winter viruses.
The Delta variant is thought to be 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant. The vast majority of cases right now are occurring in unvaccinated individuals. The best way to prevent Delta from affecting our community is to vaccinate.
I’m sure we all agree that any death in a child from a vaccine preventable illness is a tragedy. As we move through summer and into fall, parents should think about a few things: getting their children vaccinated against COVID; getting vaccinated against the flu; and taking everyday preventive actions such as covering coughs, washing hands often and avoiding people who are sick.
Anjali Subbaswamy is a Pediatric Intensive Care Physician at UNM. Please send your questions to email@example.com.