After all this period of Covid-19 alarm and its soaring Delta, this fall, millions of US children will return to school in person, many for the first time in more than a year. At the same time, the new delta variant has sparked rising coronavirus cases. The collision of these two events worries many people, including health officials.
Most children have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19. This makes them one of the most vulnerable groups to the virus. Now put all these babies together in the same place and mix in a super infectious variant. Suddenly, you have the perfect recipe for spreading COVID-19, at least if extra precautions aren’t taken, like wearing face masks.
What is a vaccine? Vaccines offer the best protection. Nevertheless many children are not yet qualified to get the COVID-19 vaccine. While vaccines for children under the age of 12 are being tested, it may take months before they are offered to most children through middle school. And their younger siblings will likely have to wait even longer.
Even once vaccines are available to younger people, it is unclear how many will receive them. Right now, 12-year-olds and teens can get a COVID-19 vaccine. However, most didn’t get the shot. Some people have even wondered if children really need a vaccine. After all, their risk of becoming fatally ill from COVID-19 is much lower than for adults.
This is all true. Most children who contract COVID-19 recover with no long-term effects. But a year and a half into the pandemic, there is still a lot that researchers and doctors don’t know about what the disease can do to children.
For example: how often do children develop persistent symptoms, also known as “long COVID”? Why do some healthy children develop severe, raging inflammation weeks after recovering from COVID-19? In some children, this complication appears in children who they didn’t even know they had been infected.
Now the delta variant adds new questions. Studies largely in adults show that this variant makes people sicker, and faster, than previous versions of the coronavirus. Will it hit children harder too?
At this time, there is little data on the risk of the delta variant for children. But the emerging picture suggests that while the virus poses little risk to many children, it does to some it could be pretty serious.