What top pediatricians want you to know about the delta variant and children

A nationwide increase in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, now responsible for the vast majority of infections, has many concerned the most vulnerable as restrictions are lifted.

Among them, parents of young children who are not yet eligible for the coronavirus vaccines wonder what the delta variant means for their families.

The delta variant is now responsible for more than 83 percent of Covid-19 cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday. Just a month ago, the variant accounted for just over 30 percent of new cases.

And on Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, recommended that all children over age 2 wear masks when they return to school this year, regardless of vaccination status. That contradicted the CDC’s previous guidelines that fully vaccinated students should not need masks. Covid-19 vaccines are only approved for people 12 years and older in the US

As parents prepare for camp, vacations, and the upcoming school year, families worry about how safe their summer or fall plans might be for their kids.

Here’s what the top pediatricians said about what families should know about the delta variant and children.

What steps can I take to protect my family?

Emergency use of vaccines for children may not come until the middle of winter, a Food and Drug Administration official said recently.

dr. Jim Versalovic, the pathologist-in-chief and interim pediatrician-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital, said: “This variant is spreading like wildfire. That means we need to be extra careful with those who are not and partially We are very concerned about children under 12 who do not currently have access to the vaccine.”

Versalovic said doctors had seen a “very dramatic shift” in the past two to three weeks to where delta is now “by far the most dominant” variant among children.

dr. Jennifer Lighter, a pediatric infection specialist at NYU Langone Health, said the delta variant, while “definitely more contagious,” doesn’t seem more dangerous to children than other variants. More than 4 million children had been diagnosed with Covid-19 on Thursday, about 14.2 percent of all cases, the AAP said. Versalovic also said, “We have no hard evidence that disease severity in children and adolescents is different with the delta variant.”

dr. Michael Green, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical director of infection prevention at UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, said vaccination is “the most important thing parents can do to protect their children” from getting the coronavirus in general, including the delta. -variant. Parents should consider encouraging other family members to get vaccinated as well, he said.

Versalovic said getting vaccinated was “the number 1 tool in preventing and reducing the spread and transmission of Covid, including the delta variant.”

“This is a race between the vaccines and the variants,” he said.

What do experts say about personal school?

The AAP, which said it is important for children to learn in person again this year, recommended school staff wear masks as well.

The CDC and the AAP recommend personal learning, even though they differ on mask guidance. Some states have banned districts from requiring masks in schools. Local governments and school districts have the power to make their own decisions about wearing masks, even for unvaccinated students.

Versalovic said that while wearing masks has been a politically charged debate, “it is certainly important to consider the importance of masks in schools, in addition to disinfection.”

Parents with children 12 and older should also consider the amount of time between two doses of the vaccines, he said.

“Now is the time to consider vaccinating a child before the next school year,” he said.

Green said parents with children with underlying medical conditions or in states with low vaccination rates that restrict masks in schools can make much more difficult decisions.

“It’s really, I think, a tough decision for parents to make,” said Green, who is involved in caring for children who have had organ transplants.

“If school districts choose to do it their own way and not enforce masking at all, I suspect we can learn that’s not the right thing to do,” he said, adding: “The fear is that there may be more. dissemination will be within schools than we’ve seen before.”

Does my child have to go to camp this summer?

Medical experts said it is important for parents to be informed about whether summer camps follow public health guidelines and what safety measures they are taking to protect children.

Lighter said parents should try to figure out a camp’s Covid-19 protocols, such as what symptoms are being screened or tested for, mask policies for indoor and outdoor activities, and staff vaccination policies. Camps that vaccinate employees and have policies such as encouraging masks indoors will reduce the risk to unvaccinated children, she said.

The AAP has also said that campers must wear masks during indoor activities.

Versalovic said parents should work closely with their camps and ask important questions about the protocols and vaccination status of counselors and other staff who will be with their children.

“I’m not here to discourage camp activities. We know it can be very important for children’s development,” he said. “I think we just need to work with the camps to make sure parents are fully aware of the practices these camps are putting in place to protect their children, which of course includes masking, distancing and sanitizing in their facilities. “

Should we take that flight to visit Grandma?

Families planning vacations or long-awaited trips to visit relatives may wonder what delta means for longer-distance travel plans.

dr. Richard Malley, a pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital, said air travel itself has not been a significant source of coronavirus transmission so far. According to the CDC, masks are required on airplanes and other major forms of public transportation, when traveling within or outside the U.S., and indoors at transportation hubs, such as airports and stations.

Malley said wearing masks while flying reduces the risk of transmission, so while the form of travel itself may not be the biggest risk, the destination can be.

“So if you’re going to a place where there are a lot of viruses, that might not be the best place to take your kid,” he said.

He said weighing the risk of travel depends on the situation. If the trip includes other fully vaccinated adults with minimal exposure, the risk is reduced, he said. But if the trip involves exposing children to other unvaccinated adults, especially those in vulnerable populations, or crowded indoor environments where people may not have masks, “the comparison isn’t in favor of that trip,” he said.

What about play dates?

With the lifting of the pandemic restrictions, families have been looking for ways to safely return to their social lives. That includes setting play dates for their unvaccinated children, even though parents may not know the vaccination statuses of others around them.

Malley said it’s reasonable to ask parents ahead of time about the vaccination status of people in the household and if anyone in the house has symptoms.

“I think parents and individuals should feel more comfortable asking these kinds of questions,” he said.

Versalovic said other important factors are making sure play dates are outside as much as possible and keeping them in quiet environments and smaller playgroups where parents can also keep their distance.

The risk would increase “dramatically,” he said, if play dates were held in crowded indoor settings among other unvaccinated people, especially around potentially vulnerable unvaccinated adults or those with underlying medical conditions.

Malley said that because of the threat of the pandemic, parents “need to be more in tune with what they’re doing with their kids” and “what are the best activities, what are the safest activities that are also fun and educational or physical.” rewarding.”

He said there was a good chance “we’ll be dealing with this for quite some time,” even if it’s not at the same intensity as when the pandemic started last year.

“This is here to stay, and if we figure out how to live in a safe way yet not be too restrictive for our children, we will limit the collateral damage that children have suffered,” he said.

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