Concerns grow over Delta variant affecting children in the US

The country is encouraging schools to reopen fully for a close-to-normal school year

Increasing numbers of children in the US are getting infected with Covid-19 as the Delta variant surges across the country, ringing alarm bells just as schools are set to reopen for a new year.

The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) reported on August 5 that nearly 94,000 coronavirus cases among children have been added in one week—what the organisation calls "a continuing substantial increase".

The group says severe illness continues to be "uncommon" but frontline workers in states are seeing children in Covid-19 wards more recently than at any other time in the pandemic—largely because of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

"My concerns are deep and I'm very concerned, and we all know why," Mr Biden said in response to a reporter's question about paediatric coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

For example, Florida has reported nearly 20,000 child cases the last month, the AAP reported.

"We definitely have seen an increase in cases here, in our emergency department and also within the rest of the hospital, in the last two or three weeks," Dr Marcos Mestre, medical director of Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami, told AFP.

And in Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards last week said: “We have more children sick with Covid-19 than at any other time during the pandemic."

"We heard from hospital leaders," Mr Edwards continued, "the Delta variant is affecting children at a greater rate there than during the surges that we saw previously.”

Those under the age of 12 are currently not eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine in the US, but doctors suggest that getting more adolescents and adults vaccinated will decrease the risk for children.

Just 50 per cent of the total US population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Meanwhile, Pfizer hopes data on vaccines for ages five to 11 will arrive by the end of September.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are also studying how their vaccines work in younger populations.

"Look, I understand that there are millions of people who decided — adults — who decided not to get vaccinated. And I understand that to badger those folks is not likely to get them to move and get vaccinated," Mr Biden continued.

"But I also understand that the reason children are becoming infected is because, in most cases, they live in low-vaccination-rate states and communities, and they're getting it from unvaccinated adults. That is what is happening."

Higher risk has largely been concentrated among older and elderly people throughout the pandemic, but recent reports from the New York Times to local ICU hospitals are compelling for more research on Delta variant risk to children.

"I think most areas, we are nearing or exceeding paediatric intensive care capacity," said Mark Wietecha, the CEO of the Children's Hospital Association, told CNN.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency is investigating whether the Delta variant can cause severe illness in children, prior to a Times piece on severe illness and Long Covid symptoms in young people.

The Biden administration has insisted that US schools open as normally as possible, and the CDC has also recommended that everyone—including teachers, staff, and students—wear face masks no matter their vaccination status.

School districts in Florida and Texas are defying governor orders banning mask mandates for the school year.

California became the first US state to mandate that all teachers get vaccinated or face regular Covid-19 testing with a new announcement by Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday.

News agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: August 11th 2021, 9:14 PM
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