Throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 rates in kids have remained relatively low. But with the rise of the delta coronavirus variant—and yet another national surge in cases—children are getting the virus at increasingly high rates.
Among children, COVID-19 cases are still relatively rare compared to rates in adults. And severe illness, as well as hospitalizations, remain quite uncommon. But the number of COVID-19 cases in kids began climbing in July after a drop in early summer, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Children’s Hospital Association. And over the last few weeks, those numbers have started an even sharper incline.
During the week ending July 22, 2021, the AAP counted 38,654 COVID-19 cases among children. The next week (ending July 29), there were 71,726 cases in kids, which is nearly double the previous week. The most recent data available, for the week ending August 5, there were 93,824 cases, “a continuing substantial increase,” the report says. (The report includes data from individual states, each of which has slightly different age cutoffs for kids. In general, the report includes data for those who are 0 to 20 years old.)
The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is, of course, the vaccines. But while there are now three COVID-19 vaccines available for adults in the U.S. and one available for people aged 12 to 15, none is available for kids under the age of 12. That’s why, with these rising numbers in mind, the AAP sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to urge the agency “to continue working aggressively towards authorizing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for children under age 12 as soon as possible.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, kids have only represented about 14% of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to AAP data. But during the week ending July 29, kids accounted for 19% of U.S. cases, representing a significant jump as fall and the new school year approaches.
“Simply stated, the delta variant has created a new and pressing risk to children and adolescents across this country, as it has also done for unvaccinated adults,” Lee Savio Beers, M.D., FAAP, president of the AAP, wrote in the letter to the FDA. The FDA is expected to authorize the first COVID-19 vaccine for kids younger than 12 sometime this winter. It’s also expected to give full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (opening up the possibility for doctors to administer the shots to younger people via off-label use) within the next few weeks, the New York Times reports.
While we wait for a vaccine option for younger kids, the most effective way to prevent those who can’t yet get a vaccine is for those around them to get vaccinated. With delta circulating, it may also be prudent for those who are already vaccinated to continue wearing face masks in some situations and to practice social distancing, especially in areas of the country with high amounts of viral transmission.