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Experts Discuss Whether Omicron Increases the Incidence of COVID-19 in Children

COVID-19 in children

In recent weeks, a spike in cases of COVID-19 in children has been reported. Figures show more than 10 million infants positive for the virus, with a five percent increase in all hospitalizations and nearly two percent increase in all deaths.

Based on these data, experts discuss whether Omicron increases the incidence of COVID-19 in children.

While until recently it seemed that children were not as affected by the pandemic, since the Delta variant became prominent and more recently Omicron, that has completely changed. 

"Omicron is highly transmissible, much more so than Delta, with a higher replication rate. That means that if someone in the household is sick, they are more likely to pass it on to not just one, but perhaps both children and vice versa," explained Priya Soni, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

The reason why cases of COVID-19 in children have been on the rise is due, experts say, to a number of multifaceted factors, including the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, which is why, in a media session conducted by Ethnic Media ServicesThe parents' questions and concerns were answered by parents.

Q: Regarding COVID-19 in children, what symptoms should parents watch for? 

Manisha Newaskar, M.D., a pediatric pulmonologist at Stanford Children's Health, said, "Some of the common symptoms (of COVID-19 in children) we see are fever and chills, sore throat, nasal congestion and discharge, muscle or body aches, mild cough, even headache and fatigue, and some people also experience loss of taste or smell."

Also, he said, "nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are some of the symptoms that warrant immediate medical attention and include dizziness, chest pain or pressure that just won't go away. Also difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, severe abdominal pain, confusion and difficulty staying awake. And if parents see a bluish discoloration on the child's face and lips, then they should seek medical attention immediately.".

He stressed that most children who become ill with the SARS-CoV-2 virus will have mild symptoms and recover. However, he has seen that many children, because of their severity, need to be hospitalized. 

Those, he referred, with an underlying medical condition are more likely to get sick. "But we have seen even previously healthy children get very, very sick. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children is a condition where multiple organs in the body are inflamed and this is a condition where we have seen children require hospitalization."

In the worst cases of COVID-19 in children, he said, severe pneumonia and respiratory failure have been seen, ending with ventilatory support and in some cases multiorgan failure.

Q: What is the impact on families when a child has COVID? And when do they have to be quarantined or worse, have to be hospitalized?

Dr. Jose Luis Perez, Medical Director of the South Central Family Health Center, said that the fact that children who have tested positive for COVID-19 must be at home puts a great burden on parents, as they cannot take time off. 

"They're dealing with the kids, having to stay home, and our parents are exhausted. We deal with that every day. Our Mental Health Department has been really busy taking care of parents and children at increased risk for anxiety and depression because of the ongoing worry," she said.

Given the reality that Omicron increases the incidence of COVID-19 in childrenvaccines are still the best option to combat it.

Q: Currently, only 18 percent of eligible children are vaccinated. What would you say to those parents struggling with whether or not to vaccinate their children against covid-19?

Dr. Perez stressed that "the biggest weapon we have is education: letting parents know that scientists and doctors and all levels of the health care system in the United States are taking the utmost precautions to make sure this vaccine is effective and safe for their child."

And, he pointed out, parents are constantly asking themselves "Is it safe to give this vaccine to my child? With the deficient information that exists, especially in social networks, things like 'does the COVID vaccine cause infertility', can provoke doubts in parents".

Dr. Soni pointed out that "this virus and the vaccine have been studied more than any other infection or pathogen in history. We have had a very successful launch in the five to 11 year age group. More than eight million doses have been administered in this age group with no major signs of risk. I think that should be really reassuring to parents."

In that sense, David Román, Director of Development and Communications at the South Central Family Health Center, and who has his first child at 13 months of age, explained that taking his child to the day care center every day is an act of faith, but we hope that other parents have done the responsible thing so that they are vaccinated, that all the personnel have been vaccinated.

"What we all uniformly share as parents is that our children are under 5 years old and can't get vaccinated right now. So you feel more pressure as a parent, because you can't vaccinate your kids, even if you wanted to."

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on February 11 that it would postpone its decision to authorize Pfizer's vaccine for children under 5 years of age. This decision has been devastating for many parents due to the increase of cases in children.

Safe return to school after Omicron increases the incidence of COVID-19 in children.

Q: What variables will play a role in keeping schools open in California? And how do we keep streaming in classrooms to a minimum?

Dr. Soni explained that one of the safety measures is ventilation, which, she said, has not been taken into account as much as the use of masks or hand hygiene. 

"We, of course, know the importance and significance of that, but that, along with the ability to vaccinate our children ages five to 11, has played a very important role here in Los Angeles."

While many counties are opening their restrictions and allowing masks to be removed, except for schools K through 12, the decision will be reviewed later this month. 

Q: How do we get our children back to school safely without wearing masks?

Dr. Newaskar felt that the use of facemasks in school should be continued until the majority of children in the country are vaccinated. "We need to continue with these mitigation measures, and I would strongly recommend it to my patients."

For Dr. Perez, "reality is very important. We are not trying to achieve zero infectivity: that is impossible. So, as long as we understand that, the benefit of removing the masks from the children is important because of the social aspect. And the psychological aspect of being in school has to be balanced with the fact that we are going to have more infectivity."

However, he stressed that, with current vaccines and treatments, hospitalizations, morbidity and mortality due to the virus are minimized.

You may be interested in: COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant women protects infants from hospitalization

Pamela Cruz
Pamela Cruz
Editor-in-Chief of Peninsula 360 Press. A communicologist by profession, but a journalist and writer by conviction, with more than 10 years of media experience. Specialized in medical and scientific journalism at Harvard and winner of the International Visitors Leadership Program scholarship from the U.S. government.

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