The Delta variant of the coronavirus has shown to be more contagious than previous versions, particularly for the unvaccinated, and that's creating a level of risk for children that didn't arise in 2020.
“Children are getting hospitalized at higher rates than we’ve ever seen,” Dr. Mona Amin, a board-certified physician, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “And yes, we do see that most children who are hospitalized are children of unvaccinated parents. But as this Delta variant surges, we are also seeing children of vaccinated parents get admitted for hospitalization for COVID.”
According to American Academy of Pediatrics, there were over 180,000 new confirmed cases among U.S. children in the week ending August 19, with more than a four-fold increase in cases over the past month. Overall, children now represent 22.4% of reported weekly cases.
“We’re actually in the second biggest wave for children,” Amid said. “180,000 children in the last week have tested positive. The highest we’ve ever seen for children has been 211,000. That was back in January. So this Delta variant is changing the game.”
Asking about what parents can do amid the heightened transmission, Amin explained that "we do the best we can with risk reduction, with masking, with vaccination, with maybe weighing benefit and risk with every social experience that we take our unvaccinated children into.”
Two 'surefire' ways to help your kids
Only children ages 12 and up are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. That still leaves millions of children vulnerable to the virus.
“I’m a pediatrician,” Dr. Amin said. “I’m also a mom of a toddler who is 20 months old [and] in daycare. So we are living COVID, breathing COVID. It is a tough time for parents, one, because we’re 18 months into this and we thought that maybe we would be on an upward swing.”
As a mother, Amin said she sympathizes with other parents who are concerned about how to protect their unvaccinated children.
“Some of the biggest things that we can do to protect our children are things that we should have been doing, which is vaccinating anyone who’s eligible and masking anyone who is able to be masked,” she said. “These are two surefire ways of helping protect our children who are too young to mask or maybe too young to get a vaccine.”
Currently, 60.4% of those ages 12 and up in America are fully vaccinated, while 71.2% have received at least one dose.
“We know it’s really nearly impossible to completely avoid a virus,” Amin said. “It’s invisible. We can’t completely do that. So we talk about risk reduction. This means: Who are we surrounding our children with? What is your level of comfortability?”
Some parents have floated the idea of having “chicken pox-type parties” in which parents gather their children together to expose them to the virus in hopes of developing immunity. The problem with this, however, is that it’s still unclear who is considered high risk for hospitalizations.
“With chickenpox-type parties, the risk there is that you don’t know if your child is going to get hospitalized,” Amin said. “You don’t know if your child is going to get a complication from COVID because this is a new virus. So we want to really focus on risk reduction, and what that means is doing what we can in our control.”
For Amin and her husband, this means taking a look at their environment.
“We really look at: What can we do? Who are we surrounding ourselves with?” Amin said. “In terms of play dates, maybe doing something outdoors. This is the best thing we can do for our children who are not vaccinated.”
She stressed that this doesn’t automatically mean that parents should be keeping their children home — but be aware of potential risks.
“Are they doing distancing?” Amin said. “Put your child in a mask. If your child is high risk for complications, maybe asthma, or talk to your child’s clinician if you’re unsure, think about maybe homeschooling them or having distance learning until they do require a masking requirement or until Delta settles down a little bit.”
And while the mortality rate for COVID-19 in children is extremely low, that’s not what Amin and other physicians are most concerned about.
“It’s also about hospitalizations, children being pulled away from school because they get COVID,” Amin said. “They get hospitalized, hospital bills, everything that comes with being hospitalized as a child that we’re trying to avoid. We know that we’re not able to completely avoid this. We know this with the flu. We know this with [Respiratory Syncytial Virus].”
At the same time, she stressed, "we have a vaccine. We have masking protocols that can really help reduce the risk. We don’t know what the next few months are going to look like. We are taking precaution with breakthrough infections, with unvaccinated individuals. We’re still learning so much about transmission because Delta is changing the ballgame a little bit. It’s highly transmissible compared to the original strain.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.