By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO

From long-haul infections to the traumatic loss of loved ones, friends and caregivers- one thing is clear: Children living in the time of COVID-19 have been anything but spared by the pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 770,000 Americans have died and community transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 remains high.

Now, four weeks after the approval of  COVID-19 vaccine use for persons aged 5 to 11 years old, Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy has teamed up with the nation’s leading pediatricians to push for the inoculation of all eligible children. 

“This vaccine was tailored specifically for the kids. The dose is lower- it’s about a third of the doses that adults get,” said Murthy, in a virtual press briefing on COVID-19 vaccines for children. 

“The vaccines were found to be more than 90% effective at preventing our kids from developing symptomatic COVID illness. That’s a very strong result.”

“While side effects were seen in the trial that included soreness and pain and swelling of the arm, fatigue, headache and the occasional fever, these symptoms disappeared in a day or two leaving children with protection against COVID-19.” 

Murthy said clinical trials to lower the age threshold for the vaccine were done on children ages five to 11 years old and went through a “rigorous” review process by government and independent scientists.

While children under five are still ineligible for vaccination against COVID-19, Murthy said parents and community members can add a layer of protection by making sure younger children are surrounded by vaccinated people. 

The Vice Admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps led the way with his own five year old, saying that ultimately, vaccinating children allows them to “regain parts of their lives that they’ve missed” in addition to fighting the virus inside the body.

Pediatricians across the nation are behind vaccinating younger populations, according to Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which boasts more than 67,000 pediatrician members.

First lady Jill Biden and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy are greeted by Dr. Jim Versalovic (left) in Texas Children’s hospital Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Justin Rex)

“Unfortunately, children can get very sick from COVID. More than 6.6 million children have been infected with this virus since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Beers. “Hundreds of children have died from the virus and many thousands have been hospitalized, some children experience long-term and sometimes quite debilitating symptoms after even mild COVID infections.”

According to the AAP, the week of Nov.11 to Nov. 18th saw more than 100,000 new infections among children for “the 15th week in a row.” Last week, “children were 25.1 percent of reported weekly COVID-19 cases” even though “children, under age 18, make up 22.2 percent of the US population.”

The organization reports that “since the first week of September, there have been over 1.7 million additional child cases.”

Beers echoed Murthy’s sentiments regarding the true price of the pandemic for children.

“Sadly, as of this summer, more than 140,000 children have lost a caregiver to COVID-19 and many more have lost other loved ones as well,” said Beers. “This pandemic has taken a serious toll on children’s mental health as they continue to face physical isolation, ongoing uncertainty, fear and grief. Young people are experiencing increasing rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicide, but there is hope.” 

“Vaccinating children will protect their health and allow them to get back to all of the activities that are so important to their health and development,” said Beers. 

Experts say they understand that questions and misinformation around vaccination abound- but so do the consequences. 

Dr. Kenneth Alexander, division chief of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Pediatrics for Nemours Children’s Hospital has seen first hand what can happen when the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 grips a child’s body.

“COVID-19 disease in children comes in two forms,” said Alexander. “Fortunately, we’ve not seen the first one much, and that’s acute viral pneumonia. When these kids come to our hospital, they’re not getting enough oxygen.”

“They’re gasping, they’re miserable. They are sick.”

Alexander said seeing “children in the intensive care unit on ventilators and with breathing tubes” with “blood clots in their lungs” is “very, very scary- not only for the children, for their parents- but for those of us caring for those children.” 

Medical professionals are more than a year into the viral pandemic that has mutated and mutated again to find access to the most viable host.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, it was really an adult disease. We heard about what was happening in nursing homes with the elderly and kids didn’t seem to be affected all that much,” said Alexander. “With emergence of the Delta variant, all of a sudden the virus changed in a way that it got into our homes because -of course- we embrace our children.”

The second group of children severely affected by COVID-19 are experiencing multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MISC).

Children with MISC can experience a range of symptoms including “high fevers, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, chest pain” and in some cases, shock. 

“The key term here is multi-system. It affects virtually every system in the body, but of greatest concern, the heart, the bone marrow and the lungs- damage is occurring everywhere,” said Alexander. “It’s almost like their bodies are in self-destruct mode.”

The pediatrician said he’s seen “family members die while children were in the hospital.”

“No one was vaccinated and that leads to sadness- and in some parents, regret and guilt because this could have been prevented,” said Alexander.

According to the White House, more than 2.6 million children between the ages of five and 11 have received the first dose of their COVID-19 vaccination. That is roughly 10 percent of all children. 

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Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer