National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins told ABC News on Sunday he has been alerted by pediatricians that children are being hospitalized at a higher rate and with more serious illnesses amid the U.S.’s most recent, delta-fueled coronavirus surge.
Collins’ comments on ABC News’ “This Week” follow a massive jump in Covid-19 cases among children and reports of rising hospitalizations in at least eight states, a trend Collins said he is not currently able to confirm is unfolding nationwide.
The NIH director said the U.S. does not currently have the “rigorous data” needed “to show for sure” whether the delta variant is more serious for children, and “better comparisons” are needed “to be sure of that.”
However, Collins highlighted he is getting information that pediatricians “are concerned that this time around kids who are in hospital are both more numerous and more seriously ill.”
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and vaccine makers shows vaccines are still highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death in vaccinated people.
Collins said Sunday that health officials “don’t have anxieties yet” about vaccines not protecting against other Covid-19 variants. “The best way to prevent that from happening is to reduce the number of infections,” he said, reiterating recent concerns from Dr. Anthony Fauci that future virus mutations could start to evade vaccines.
Child hospitalizations have risen in at least eight states, either statewide or in major pediatric facilities, over the past week, with a handful—Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida—reporting new records for the Covid-19 pandemic. The uptick in child hospitalizations in these states, predominantly based in the Southern U.S., also appears to be driven (at least in some cases) by a corresponding spike in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a contagious seasonal flu that is more common in the wintertime. While RSV infections typically surge during the winter flu season, experts say the respiratory infections are likely increasing now because Covid-19 prevention delayed the normal RSV season. The CDC reported “historically low levels” of RSV while there were strict safety precautions in the U.S., but now people are relaxing and increasing contact with the pathogens that weren’t spreading as much earlier on in the pandemic.
Overall, the risk of death and hospitalization among children who contract Covid-19 remains low. Just over 520 children have died from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic (0.08% of the U.S.’s 612,000 total deaths) and only around 0.01% recorded cases result in death. However, the CDC highlights it is still possible for children to suffer from severe disease as it “occurs in all age groups.”
What To Watch For
Exacerbating concerns over this current trend is a massive jump in the number of children catching Covid-19. A report released last Tuesday by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recorded almost 72,000 new cases among children from July 22-29, up from 39,000 the week prior and a sum that comprised about 19% of all cases reported nationally over that period. AAP said cases have increased fivefold since the end of June.