The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on more than 2 years after it started. And for many pediatricians, the messaging has remained the same – this is a serious illness that can affect children, and we should be taking every measure to prevent illness and death. But that message is failing to resonate amongst the public, and if you have travelled anywhere this summer, you would have no idea we are still in the midst of a global pandemic that is continuing to cause high levels of morbidity and mortality as everyone appears to have “moved on”. Additionally, despite the availability of highly effective vaccinations against SARS-COV-2, high levels of vaccine hesitancy remain and large portions of the population, especially children, remain vulnerable to the disease.
One of the main reasons for the low vaccine rates in children, and the push to stop mandatory mask laws in schools is widespread misinformation suggesting that COVID-19 is no worse than a case of flu or the common cold. For pediatricians on the front line caring for children, we are well aware this is not the case, and in this month’s Pediatrics, Maddux et al publish an article entitled, “Health Impairments in Children and Adolescents After Hospitalization for Acute COVID-19 or MIS-C,” with even more data highlighting the severity of COVID-19 in children (10.1542/peds.2022-057798). In a 25-site cohort study from 2020 to 2021, Maddux et al followed 358 children for 2-4 months after hospitalization for COVID-19 or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). They found that over 1 in 4 children hospitalized with acute COVID-19 or MIS-C experienced persistent symptoms or activity impairment for at least 2 months, and those with MIS-C and respiratory conditions or obesity were at higher risk of a prolonged recovery. When coupling this report with a similar study, “Post–COVID-19 Conditions Among Children 90 Days After SARS-CoV-2 Infection”, we can safely conclude that COVID-19 can lead to long-term sequelae in children.
The rates of COVID-19 hospitalization and deaths in children are lower than adults— a statistic that aligns with the lower rates of general hospitalization and death in children. When we have a condition that is known to cause death, hospitalization, and long-term symptoms, it is our imperative to do what we can to prevent those outcomes. Over the past 2 years, we have learned that measures like vaccination, ventilation, and masking can help keep children safe and decrease the risk of morbidity and mortality from COVID-19. Unfortunately, that message has been drowned out by a sea of disinformation and minimization of COVID-19. I encourage all pediatricians to use their collective voices in their offices, in their communities, and on both social and traditional media to counteract the messages that are perpetuating the pandemic and continuing to harm children. We must continue to put the health and welfare of children first and advocate for policies and measures that prevent harm to children.