Editor’s note: For the latest news on COVID-19, visit http://bit.ly/AAPNewsCOVID19.
More than 1,000 children in the U.S. have died of COVID-19, a toll that comes as the White House lays out new measures to address the surging omicron variant.
“This sad milestone reminds us both of the serious impact COVID-19 has had on children, as well as the importance of vaccination for all who are eligible,” said AAP President Lee Savio Beers, M.D., FAAP. “Our hearts break for the families who have experienced these tragic losses. We will continue to work to support them, and to do all we can to keep children safe and healthy.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts the pediatric death toll at 1,015 children under 18 years. Throughout the pandemic, children also have suffered from long-term COVID symptoms, loss of loved ones, economic hardship, missed educational opportunities and strains on their mental health.
COVID cases are once again climbing with a seven-day moving average across all ages of about 133,000 new cases each day. Researchers are racing to learn more about the omicron variant that now makes up 73% of new cases, up from 13% a week ago, according to the CDC.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden laid out new measures to combat the virus. These include:
- increased access to testing through new sites, and delivery of 500 million free rapid tests to people who request them;
- expanded access to vaccination through new pop-up clinics, additional vaccinators and increased pharmacy capacity; and
- additional support for hospitals through deployment of additional medical personnel, funding for more hospital beds and provision of critical supplies.
“We should all be concerned about omicron, but not panicked,” Biden said. “If you’re vaccinated, especially if you got your booster shot, you are highly protected. If you’re unvaccinated you’re at a higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, getting hospitalized and even dying. So the best thing to do is get fully vaccinated and get your booster shot.”
These steps come in addition to those he laid out earlier this month, which included increasing booster uptake, calling on businesses to require vaccination or weekly testing for employees, deploying rapid response teams, donating 1.2 billion vaccine doses globally and working with vaccine manufacturers to prepare in case new omicron-specific vaccines or boosters are needed.
The Dec. 2 plan includes several measures specifically aimed at children, such as federal funding for vaccine counseling for children from low-income families, family vaccine clinics and improved testing to keep children in school.
“COVID-19 is scary, but the science is clear,” Biden said. “Children are as safe in school as they are any place assuming the appropriate precautions have been taken.”
About 53% of adolescents ages 12-17 years and 13% of children ages 5-11 years are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. New data show most reactions among children under 12 years have been mild to moderate, adding to the evidence vaccines are safe for children.
Vaccines are not yet available for children under 5 years. Pfizer recently announced it did not reach its immunogenicity goal in its trial in ages 2-4 years. It now is studying a three-dose series for children under 5 years and hopes to present data to the Food and Drug Administration for authorization this spring.
- AAP resources on becoming a vaccinator, preparing a pediatric practice for COVID-19 vaccination and getting paid
- CDC clinical considerations for administering COVID-19 vaccines
- Information from the FDA about the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
- Information from HealthyChildren.org on preparing children for a COVID-19 vaccine