As experts ponder vaccinating our kids, Covid orphans tens of thousands

cdcflushot-300x199The battle to quell the coronavirus pandemic and especially its deadly Delta variant surge soon may extend to the nation’s children.

A drug maker has submitted required data and formally requested from federal regulators an emergency approval for a vaccine for youngsters ages 5 to 12. Officials say they will take up this request, pronto, with the possibility that parents by Halloween or early November can start to see the great relief of strong, safe protection for their children from the debilitating and deadly virus.

It already has taken a stark toll on youngsters, with an estimated 140,000 of them losing their main caregivers — parents or grandparents — between April 1, 2020, and June 30 of this year, a newly published study estimates.

The researchers for that study also found that children of color suffered in disproportionate fashion, reporting:

“[C]hildren of racial and ethnic minorities account for 65% of children losing primary caregivers, compared to 39% of the total population. Hispanic and Black children account for 32% and 26% respectively, of all children losing their primary caregiver, compared to 19%, and 13%, of the total population.”

In the West and Southwest, particularly in states along the Mexico border, Latino children bore the heaviest burden of being orphaned due to the coronavirus, while black children in the Southeast were hit hardest by the deaths of parents, grandparents, and other key caregivers, whether due directly or indirectly to the disease, the researchers found.

Their study looked at “excess deaths,” mortality beyond what normal circumstances would forecast, and their numbers “take into account both official covid deaths and deaths from other causes, such as homicides and drug overdoses, beyond those expected in a typical year before the pandemic,” the Washington Post reported.

Youngsters will feel the effects of these early losses for a long time, experts say, and the existence of so huge of an affected population constitutes a pediatric crisis, the newspaper said, noting:

“Losing a parent or other primary caregiver is one of the most stressful things that can happen in a child’s life — putting them at risk of a trajectory of depression and post-traumatic stress, as well as physical manifestations of grief, such as heart problems … Mass casualty events in history have been shown to have a domino effect on children. Following World War I, studies showed that children whose soldier fathers died before or after their birth appeared to have decreased life spans. The more than 3,000 children who lost parents in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks still talk about the impact it has had on their lives.”

Statistics on kids and the coronavirus

Experts long have said that children, for reasons not exactly known yet, appear more resistant to Covid-19 and its harms. As USA Today reported:

“Of the 73 million children in the U.S., fewer than 700 have died of Covid-19 during the course of the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

The New York Times provided a statistical snapshot of kids and the coronavirus, thusly:

“Children rarely become severely ill from Covid-19, but the Delta variant landed nearly 30,000 of them in hospitals in August. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 5.9 million Americans younger than 18 have been infected with the coronavirus. Of the roughly 500 Americans under 18 who have died, about 125 were ages 5 to 11 … About one in six Americans infected since the beginning of the pandemic was under 18. But with the surge of the Delta variant, children accounted for as many as one in four infections last month, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

With school districts across the country re-opening and seeking to return to greater normalcy and to provide youngsters the more positive educational effects of in-person learning, parents, teachers, and administrators have worried and struggled to combat coronavirus infections and the necessity, affirmed by often aggressive testing, for quarantines of kids.

Anxieties have increased sharply for adults — not only about kids’ safety, especially with the highly contagious Delta variant raging, but also the transmissibility of the disease, among youngsters, as well as to teachers and staff, as well as family members, including parents and grandparents.

Students who are 12 or older already were eligible for vaccination under an emergency use order issued by the federal Food and Drug Administration and approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pediatricians had cautioned parents against pushing to get kids younger than 12 vaccinated — as they theoretically could be in “off-label” fashion by doctors — at least until federal experts weighed in on the dosage, safety, and effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines in the young. Children between 5 and 12 will get a lower dose shot, which vaccine maker Pfizer has said shows high effectiveness and safety.

As more grownups have learned about the disease, the shots, and kids, confidence and enthusiasm has built among many to get kids protected, with officials insisting they are ready to handle the demand.

Health workers already have been laboring to get young people 12 and older vaccinated, as well as to provide Pfizer boosters to those eligible (including those older than 65, the immunocompromised, patients with existing health conditions, and front-line workers with higher risk from the disease).

More companies and other organizations are rolling out requirements for their people to get vaccinated — and these mandates are working. They now include transplant programs telling patients their standing on recipient priority lists could be affected if they do not protect themselves and valuable gift organs by getting coronavirus shots, unless their doctors disagree, or they have demonstrable religious grounds for opposition to vaccination.

The city of Los Angeles, by the way, has rolled out one of the nation’s toughest new requirements for customers to show proof of vaccination to enter indoor venues, including restaurants, salons, gyms, and shops. The ordinance will not take effect until next month and may be rolled back if the city lifts its declared coronavirus health emergency status.

Getting vaccinated — against Covid and the flu

As of Oct. 9, federal officials report they have administered 400 million coronavirus shots nationwide, with more than 76% of the country’s population older than 12, fully vaccinated. That includes more than 7 million patients who are eligible for and have gotten a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine to address its waning effectiveness.

Federal officials are urging patients nationwide to get not only their appropriate coronavirus shots — with expert recommendations expected imminently on boosters for those who got vaccines from Moderna or Johnson & Johnson — but also to get flu inoculations.

Due to tough public health measures in place last year targeting the pandemic, the United States had a rare and almost negligible flu season. Authorities doubt this will be repeated this year, and they fear that health workers and the health system — battered, demoralized, and exhausted by the coronavirus and especially the summer Delta surge — is ill-equipped for a “twin-demic,” forced to handle high numbers of flu and Covid-19 infections.

We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all. The disease has taken at least 713,000 lives and infected 44 million of us, with significant numbers of patients recovering but suffering still with debilitating “long covid” cases. The Delta variant surge may be relenting but the nation is still reporting more than 1,700 new deaths per day and almost 70,000 daily coronavirus hospitalizations.

Please get tested, if appropriate, and get vaccinated. Officials are trying to make it as easy and convenient, as possible — and it’s free. All medical interventions carry risk. But vaccines’ benefits long have been shown to far outweigh their harms. If you’re uncertain about getting a booster, talk to your doctor, pronto. And, while you’re at it, ask about and get your annual flu shot. We cannot ignore disease and death and embrace nihilism and fatalism. We can quell the coronavirus and we must do so before it mutates again in ways that can be even more disastrous.

Photo credit: youngster getting a seasonal flu vaccination, file shot from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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