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What researchers know about the delta variant and kids

delta covid
Posted at 4:41 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-18 17:06:24-04

As the delta variant surges across the country, more children are being hospitalized with severe illnesses. Jerry and Tiffany Pittman are the parents of a child who was recently released from Children's Hospital in Colorado Springs.

“About 10 days ago, it started just with a mild cough and just progressed from there,” Tiffany Pittman said.

The Pittmans have a 2-year-old and a 7-month-old. Their 2-year-old, Cecelia, recently tested positive for COVID-19.

“She started to develop a fever, and then the day after that is when she tested positive for COVID. I believe it was either the next day or two days after that is when she started to show difficulty breathing with some nasal flaring, using her chest and belly muscles to take deep breaths, to take deep breaths," Pittman said. "And that's only brought her to the children's emergency department.”

Cecilia was in the hospital for nearly six days. According to Dr. Robert Frenck, a professor of pediatrics and the director of the Center for Vaccine Research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cecilia is one of more than 17,000 American kids who have been hospitalized due to COVID-19. More than 370 have died.

“Viruses mutate or have variations normally," Dr. Frenck said. "That's what every virus does. That's the way it exists, and it's a constant struggle between the virus and us. We're trying to kill the virus off, and the virus is trying to change so it stays ahead of us and can stay alive. What we have seen with the Delta is it does seem to be a little more pathogenic, a little bit more ability to cause severe disease.”

Dr. Keri Althoff is an epidemiologist with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She says data is still being analyzed to understand if kids are getting sicker from the Delta variant than previous versions. She says we know that there has been an increase in hospitalizations and the Delta variant is more infectious.

“Instead of infecting two or three people, each infected person now infects between six and seven people," Dr. Althoff said. "And so what that does is it means the virus spreads faster and our case numbers go up more quickly.”

Dr. Althoff says kids are the most susceptible to catching the virus since they aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine. Dr. Frenck has been overlooking the vaccine trials, and he says children 5 to 12 are responding well to the vaccine. In fact, he says their immune response is stronger than that of teenagers and young adults.

“What we want to do is to give as much vaccine as we need to, but as little as possible, because that's going to decrease the side effects," Dr. Frenck said. "And so we actually found with the five to 12-year-olds, we were able to give 10 micrograms which are one-third of the dose, and we got the same or superior immune responses we did in adults.”

Dr. Frenck says the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the vaccine after two months of data following trials among adults. If the FDA follows the same pattern for kids five to 12, he says they could be eligible for a vaccine by the end of the month or early September.

In the meantime, Dr. Frenck and Dr. Althoff agree the best way to protect our kids is to get vaccinated.

“One in five households in the United States has a child under the age of 12 in it," Dr. Althoff said. "That's a lot of households who cannot be fully vaccinated. If you're living in a household with a child who is not yet eligible for vaccination, get yourself it's and get everyone in the household vaccinated.”

The Pittmans say being vaccinated gave them the ability to take proper care of their two kids.

“It was helpful for both her and me to be healthy throughout this process, to be able to take care of you at the hospital and home, so I kind of thought of it as having a couple of legs to stand on,” Jerry Pittman said.

“I just really wanted to share our story because it is still out there," Tiffany Pittman said. "It's very real. And although kids tend to do well, we can still have some kids who get very ill. And really, the best way to protect them is to get vaccinated because, especially our young children, they can't.”