Push To Get Children Vaxinated Against Cov Grows As Infections Among Young Increase
By Alex McDonald and Norman Swan
In the US state of Tennessee, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital has had to open its second COVID-19 unit.
Associate professor of paediatric infectious diseases Ritu Banerjee worries it still will not be enough to deal with the growing number of children testing positive to COVID-19.
“What I’m really worried about is that we are going to get worse before we get better,” Dr Banerjee told 7.30.
“We may, in fact, get too full to accept transfers into our hospital.”
Cases of children being hospitalised or developing serious disease are rare.
However, in southern US states, where vaccination rates are low, the number of seriously ill children is rising.
On Sunday, Tennessee recorded 7,232 cases of COVID-19 in a population smaller than New South Wales.
“We are not seeing more severe illness with Delta, we are just seeing … the overall number of children in the hospital is greater,” Dr Banerjee said.
“Some of those children are healthy — we can’t predict why they will go on to develop severe disease.”
Last week, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital experienced its second paediatric death, another statistically rare event.
“Our hospital had to figure out a process for how to allow her siblings and her family members to come to the hospital in order to say goodbye to her,” Dr Banerjee said.
“We haven’t had to have a process like that in place earlier in the pandemic.”
The heavy caseload is taking a toll on hospital staff.
“People are very tired, very busy. There are some staffing shortages,” Dr Banerjee said.
“It’s really, really hard and tough on staff.”
Rate of infection higher with Delta variant
The TGA has approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 18-year-olds but the federal government is awaiting further advice from ATAGI.
Around the world there is a growing debate about whether the Delta variant is more likely to cause severe disease in children.
The consensus among paediatricians so far is that Delta is no more lethal than previous COVID-19 variants.
In the current outbreak in NSW, the infection rate among 18 to 29-year-olds is about four times higher than it was last year.
In teenagers, primary school children and younger children, the rate of infection is roughly 10 to 15 times higher this time around.
The rate of hospitalisation is still low — 1.7 per cent for those aged up to four years old and 2.2 per cent for those aged 12 to 17 who test positive to COVID-19.
Rising rates of infection among children are forcing many countries, including Australia, to expedite plans to vaccinate the very young.
“I firmly believe that we need to get in and vaccinate our 12 to 15-year-olds at the moment,” NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said last week.
“We are watching internationally the evidence around younger children but I think that, given the transmission of Delta, it may well be that in future we do provide vaccines in the younger age groups.”
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant says she wants to see children aged 12 to 15 vaccinated.
In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved the Pfizer vaccine for use among 12 to 18-year-olds. The federal government says it is waiting on further advice from Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).
“I just want to assure, particularly parents, vaccinating children is something we take really seriously,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week.
“We’re just making sure that we’re getting the right advice and then we can put the right plans in place and we can move on those vaccinations in the safest and most effective way possible.”
In the past, one argument for vaccinating children was to increase our chances of reaching herd immunity.
However Peter McIntyre from the University of Sydney said achieving herd immunity increasingly looked like a “mirage”.
“The idea that we could get herd immunity and have some kind of force field around the country and not get any local infections — I think that’s just off the agenda now,” he said.
“We really shouldn’t be looking to immunise children to somehow solve or get us to herd immunity. That’s not why we’ll be immunising children.
“We’ll be immunising them for their own benefit, and particularly in relation to their ability to attend school and easing the understandable anxieties of parents and teachers about that.”