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Though the percentage of young children who develop severe illness from COVID-19 is relatively small compared to adults, the actual number of kids affected is rising as the delta variant spreads among adults. Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images
  • Vaccinations among all eligible age groups are slowing, even while the number of cases is increasing.
  • This trend is likely to lead to more cases among children.
  • Children can potentially experience severe health outcomes, including death, from COVID-19.
  • Coronavirus variants, which may potentially be more dangerous, are a special concern for unvaccinated children.
  • Getting more adults and teens vaccinated helps protect unvaccinated children and other vulnerable groups.

Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for the first COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020, the United States has been working to get enough people vaccinated that it will reach herd immunity: the point when a large percentage of the population becomes immune to a disease.

However, recent data shows that reaching that goal may be a bigger challenge than some originally thought.

As of July 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was reporting that 56.4 percent of people in the United States have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In addition, 48.8 percent of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated.

However, according to Dr. John S. Schieffelin, associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine in the sections of pediatric and adult infectious diseases at Tulane University School of Medicine, vaccinations among all eligible age groups are slowing even while the rate of COVID-19 cases is increasing dramatically in 49 U.S. states.

The CDC reports that, as of July 15, the 7-day average number of administered vaccine doses reported to the agency was 270,592.

This represents a 35.7 percent decrease from the previous week’s data. At the same time, daily cases have been trending upward rapidly.

On June 19, the 7-day moving average had reached a low of 11,386 cases. But by July 20, the number had soared to 37,673.

“The trend in infections is particularly high among younger adults,” Schieffelin said. “This will likely trigger an increase in cases among younger children in the near future.”

With rising cases among children, we’re also likely to see increasing cases of severe COVID-19 complications.

Children with COVID-19 can develop a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C).

In MIS-C, inflammation can develop in any of several body parts, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.

Schieffelin said that children with certain preexisting conditions are most at risk when it comes to COVID-19.

Children with heart or lung disease, cancer, or severe obesity are at greatest risk.

He noted, however, that the exact risk factors for MIS-C have not been clarified. It can also affect children without any preexisting conditions.

Schieffelin also said that, while long-haul COVID-19 symptoms are less common in children than in adults, it can affect them as well.

He pointed to a recent study from Switzerland showing that 4 percent of children diagnosed with COVID-19 had symptoms for more than 12 weeks after their diagnosis.

The most common symptoms seen in these children included tiredness, problems with concentration, and an increased need for sleep.

Finally, there’s a risk of death from COVID-19 among children.

According to Dr. Niraj Patel, chair of the American College of Allergy Asthma and Immunology COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, 0.00 to 0.26 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States have been children.

Also, among the states that reported data, 0.00 to 0.03 percent of pediatric COVID-19 cases have resulted in death.

While this might seem small percentage-wise, the number of deaths isn’t insignificant. Patel said there have been 4,087,916 cases of COVID-19 in children and a total of 10,628 deaths.

Patel also noted that the number of cases of pediatric COVID-19 is rising.

Over the course of 2 weeks (July 1–15, 2021), there was a 1 percent increase in the cumulated number of child cases. In other words, in that 2-week period, 43,033 new cases were added to the total number of cases.

Another concern when it comes to children is that newer, more dangerous variants of the virus will develop.

Patel said this is particularly problematic since children may not be able to get vaccinated due to their young age or parents’ choices.

Schieffelin further explained that all viruses mutate as they replicate.

The more the coronavirus is transmitted from person to person, the more it will mutate and create variants.

“Most of these mutations will result in dead-end variants that cannot compete with what is already circulating,” Schieffelin said. “However, we run the risk of new variants that can be transmitted more easily and can cause more severe disease.”

Schieffelin said that the delta variant is of serious concern right now because it’s able to spread so quickly.

He noted that it doesn’t appear to be more virulent, but there are more younger people needing to be hospitalized due to this variant.

Because of all the above risks, Schieffelin said it’s important for people who are eligible to get vaccinated to do so.

“An increased number of cases in one age group is likely to spill over into other age groups,” he said. “Increased cases among children, while it poses a low risk, does pose some risk to their health.”

In addition, Schieffelin pointed out that there are immunocompromised people in all age groups who need the protection afforded by the people around them being vaccinated.

He further noted that when cases become too high, hospitals can become overloaded, as was seen in March 2020.

Also, there will be increased public pressure to return to mask mandates and school closures.

“I think we can all agree that school closures have a significantly negative effect on children,” Schieffelin said. “However, if teachers and parents do not feel safe, there will be pressure to close.​”

Vaccinations are an important part of getting the disease under control, according to Schieffelin. Widespread vaccination can help decrease transmission, protecting people who can’t get vaccinated.