Saturday, Jun 25, 2022

Omicron And Children: Is Vaccinating Adults Key To Keeping Kids Safe?

With a spike in Omicron cases, more and more children, especially ones in the unvaccinated age group and those with comorbidities, are getting hospitalised.

Omicron And Children: Is Vaccinating Adults Key To Keeping Kids Safe?
A health worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine dose to a student at a school in Mumbai on January 4, 2022 Dinesh Parab/Outlook

While cases of severe disease and hospitalisation due to Omicron have been repeatedly been fewer, a worrying trend of children testing positive for Covid-19 has caused concern among parents and researchers.

Numbers of children getting hospitalised due to Covid-19 have been reported from across states in the US which saw a massive spike in numbers of unvaccinated children needing hospitalisation after testing positive for Covid-19. In the US, children under five are the only age group left to get vaccinated. The rise in the number of hospitalised kids has been attributed to the spread of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19. Between mid-December to January, official data in the US suggests that the rate of hospitalisation among the youngest kids surged from 2.5 per 100,000 to over 4 in 100,000 children.

Is Omicron affecting children in India too?

The Omicron variant has spread rapidly across India, even as rates of hospitalisation and disease remain low. According to reports, however, unvaccinated children with comorbidities might be at a higher risk from Omicron than vaccinated adults other unvaccinated children. According to the Indian Paediatric Society, at least 31 children with comorbidities who have tested positive for Covid-19 have been hospitalised in Delhi. Out of these, eight children have reported seizures and low blood pressure while all the others have comorbidities.

(A health worker injects a Covid-19 vaccine to a girl in Mumbai | Credit: Dinesh Parab/Outlook)

All children are below 15 years of age, India Today reported. India started its vaccination drive for children between ages 15-18 years on January 3. Children younger than that are not yet eligible for vaccines in India. Among the 31 children, two are infants less than two-year-old. A senior doctor at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Dr Dhiren Ghupta was quoted by the media on Sunday as claiming that children under two years age group were at a higher risk of infection by Omicron.

What are symptoms that a child has Covid-19?

According to doctors, the most common symptoms among 11-18-year-old Covid-19 patients include high-grade fever, headache, sore throat, dry cough or runny nose. While a number of Omicron patients have reported no loss of smell or taste, it is usually an associated symptom of former Covid-19 variants.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert in the US, had earlier said that Omicron appears to cause less-severe disease across the board, but that the sheer number of infections because of its extreme contagiousness will mean that many more children will get infected, and a certain share of them will wind up in the hospital.

Fauci also said many children hospitalized with Covid-19 have other health conditions that make them more susceptible to complications from the virus. That includes obesity, diabetes and lung disease.

In India, doctors treating children in Covid-19 wards in both India and US have also said that there is no need to panic while maintaining that symptoms from Omicron are not as several previous variants like Delta.

(Image credit: PTI)

How to protect children from Covid-19

Despite the now established failure in Covid-19 vaccines efficacy in defending against infection from newer variants, experts agree that vaccinating everyone was the only way to build a safety net around children below the eligible vaccination age or in countries with poor access to vaccines.

After a five-fold increase in children's hospitalisation in New York City, the acting commissioner of the New York State Department of Health Mary T. Bassett stressed the need to up vaccinations for children, especially in the five-11 age group. Doctors have also encouraged full vaccinations and booster doses for adults and young adults.

In the US, Dr Fauci has emphasized that one of the best ways to protect the youngest children is to vaccinate everyone else. While vaccinations may not be able to provide protection against infection, experts agree that vaccinations may play an important role in building immunity against severe disease and hospitalisation.

Surrounding children with vaccinated adults might be one way to keep them from contracting the virus.

(With inputs from Agencies)