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The delta variant doesn’t appear to pose a greater risk to young children than other variants of the coronavirus. Dobrila Vignjevic/Getty Images
  • Many Americans are concerned about the risk the delta variant poses to the health of their unvaccinated children.
  • Though cases in general are increasing in some areas, the percentage of hospitalizations is not increasing in children as a result of the delta variant, according to the most recent data available.
  • However, experts say that, just like adults, children who have medical issues have a greater risk of complications.
  • Vaccinations for young children are expected to become available this fall.

As the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread, many Americans are concerned about what this means for their unvaccinated children.

Children have, for the most part, been spared from serious complications of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. While more than 4 million kids have contracted SARS-CoV-2, the vast majority of cases have been mild, only rarely leading to hospitalization and death.

There have been recent reports of kids being admitted to the intensive care unit and more children being diagnosed with COVID-19.

But the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the hospitalization rate and risk of severe illness has not been increasing among children.

At the same time, infectious disease experts aren’t surprised to see cases increasing among young Americans as millions remain unvaccinated and are back to their regular activities, like camp and school.

The most effective way to protect children who aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine is for more adults to get vaccinated.

“Children are spared the severe consequences of COVID-19 and less likely to spread it, and I think that remains true for the delta variant despite scary headlines,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Healthline.

Delta is a more contagious variant and is expected to trigger outbreaks in areas with low vaccination rates.

Since many children are unvaccinated, they remain susceptible to contracting the virus.

Kids are also back in their social activities more so than adults due to their low risk of getting seriously ill with COVID-19.

“People shouldn’t be surprised about cases, because this virus isn’t going to be eliminated or eradicated,” Adalja said.

According to Adalja, the goal has never been to drive coronavirus cases to zero.

“Our goal has been to remove the ability of the virus to cause severe disease, hospitalization, and death — to tame it,” Adalja said.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children still have a low risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19.

The latest data shows that kids make up around 1.3 to 3.6 percent of total reported hospitalizations, and that around 0.1 to 1.9 percent of all COVID-19 cases in children resulted in hospitalization.

“Hospitalizations are not increasing in children as a result of the delta variant, so they still seem at low risk of COVID-19 even with this variant,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist with the University of California, San Francisco.

Gandhi, who has a young unvaccinated child, said she’s not nervous right now, given the data showing the hospitalization rate is not increasing in children due to the delta variant.

Dr. Richard Martinello, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist and associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, said that though children have a lower risk, a small percentage of kids develop complications, like multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) or long-haul COVID-19.

When a variant is more contagious, like delta, it will naturally lead to more “raw hospitalizations” — which does not equate to an increase in the hospitalization rate.

It really depends on the child’s underlying health.

Just like adults, children who have medical issues have a greater risk of complications.

Most children don’t develop severe illness, and it won’t be very different from other common respiratory viruses.

If you have a healthy child with no medical problems, Adalja said parents can make an informed risk assessment that your child may not need to wear a mask in situations where it’s not required.

If you have a child who, for example, had a heart transplant and takes immunosuppressants, then you will want to take more precautions.

“I don’t think you can give a one-size-fits-all recommendation,” Adalja said. “It depends upon the individual child’s risk for severe disease.”

Evidence shows that cases among children have dropped in areas with high vaccination rates.

The most effective way to keep kids safe is for more adults to get vaccinated and reduce the opportunity for the coronavirus to spread among their communities.

“The virus doesn’t care if you’re a child or an adult, it only cares if you’re unvaccinated,” Adalja said.

If you haven’t been vaccinated but are eligible to do so, get vaccinated now.

“Hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine have been given in the U.S. We know that it is both safe and effective,” Martinello said.

Vaccinations for young children are expected to become available this fall.

Until then, Gandhi recommends looking at your region’s metrics to inform which precautions are necessary for camps and schools in your area.

As the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread, many Americans are concerned about what this means for their unvaccinated children.

There’s currently no evidence to suggest the hospitalization rate is increasing among kids.

Throughout the pandemic, the data shows that kids, in general, have a low risk of developing severe illness.

But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

While healthy kids will likely develop symptoms on par with other common respiratory illnesses, kids with underlying medical issues have a greater risk of developing complications and should take stricter precautions.