The Delta Variant And Kids: What Parents Need To Know About The Next Phase Of Covid
Whether vaccines still work, when they’re coming for kids under 12, and protecting your children until then.
Just when it seemed like life was getting back to normal and times were starting to feel precedented, the delta variant has reminded the world that the pandemic isn’t over yet. It has ravaged India and caused an uptick in cases in Israel, where vaccination rates are high. And now it’s firmly here on US shores. So, how does the delta variant affect kids and families with children too young to be vaccinated yet?
The delta variant has now become the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. because of how much more contagious it is. Thanks to this new version of the virus, case numbers, which were previously dropping, have been increasing again in communities with low vaccination rates, says the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
Delta is more than a current worry — it’s a cautionary tale. Experts worry variants like it will continue to proliferate if more people don’t receive a vaccine. “We all should be concerned about the delta variant, particularly those who are not vaccinated,” says Hank Bernstein, D.O., MHCM, a board-certified pediatrician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center and a member of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, in an interview with Romper. “It’s been remarkable how safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines have been, but it’s been challenging getting enough people vaccinated. Why is that a concern? Because not only does the virus cause significant illness, hospitalization, and even death, but the virus learns to mutate, or change itself, to avoid our immune systems. The more people who get vaccinated, the less likely it will be to mutate.”
We asked Bernstein and another pediatric infectious disease specialist to weigh in on all your questions, and share advice on how you can protect children of every age.
Should Parents Be Worried About The Delta Variant?
The answer to this question comes down to vaccination, says Mobeen Rathore, M.D., chief of pediatric infectious disease and immunology at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. “If their children are immunized, they should not be worried. If they are not immunized, of course they are at risk, not only for the delta variant but any coronavirus variant,” he says. “All children 12 and older are eligible for the vaccine so you should get them that vaccine.”
So far, the vaccines appear to be very effective against the delta variant, though research shows it is crucial that everyone get both shots of the two-shot vaccines. A report from Public Health England found the Pfizer vaccine, the only one currently approved for children 12-16, is “96% effective against hospitalization after two doses,” which is good news for parents. A study from Moderna showed that their vaccine is effective against the delta variant as well; same goes for the J&J single shot vaccine.
Is The Delta Variant More Contagious?
The delta variant appears to be about twice as contagious as the original strain of Covid, according to the New York Times. Viruses mutate over time. Some become more resistant to immune responses; others more contagious. The delta variant is an example of the latter. “It appears the delta variant is a new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus our immune systems haven’t seen before, so it is able to spread more quickly and cause serious illness,” says Bernstein. “Fortunately, the vaccines have been remarkably effective in protecting against the virus, including the delta variant.”
Does The Delta Variant Affect Children More Severely Than Earlier Forms Of Covid?
There is a fair amount of discussion of this question, and some media coverage has implied this strain is worse for young people. What is more likely, says Rathore, is that the delta variant is not itself more severe for children, but that many children are too young to receive vaccines, so they are contracting this form of the virus at higher rates.
“To the best of my knowledge, this variant is not more likely to affect children, but it will affect any of the susceptible people who have not been immunized,” he explains. “More than a quarter of infections are occurring because of the delta variant, and children are now relatively more likely to be infected if many of the adults around them haven’t been immunized against the virus.”
And what about little hearts? The CDC has reported that a small percentage of kids infected with the coronavirus have experienced multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), an inflammation of organs like the heart, lungs, kidneys, or other body parts. Does this new variant cause MIS-C more often than before? Basically, more infections mean more cases, though the delta variant isn’t inherently more likely to cause the syndrome.
“More than four million children have been infected with the virus, and over 4,000 of them have gotten MIS-C,” says Bernstein. “I don’t know that the delta variant is necessarily creating more MIS-C cases, but the more infections we have with the virus, including the delta variant, the more likely we’ll end up with more MIS-C cases.”
What Are The Delta Variant Symptoms In Children?
As mask mandates and social distancing rules have relaxed, kids have started catching colds and other illnesses just like the old days (oh strep throat, we meet again). What should you watch for in your child to know if they’re coming down with a typical cough-and-sniffles combo, or the latest form of Covid?
“Early on it’s really hard to differentiate Covid from any other causes,” says Rathore. “One thing very specific to Covid is loss of smell and taste. Parents are smart, so just follow your common sense and if you think your children are sick, take them to the pediatrician to make sure.”
The CDC says symptoms of Covid-19, including infections caused by the delta variant, are fever or chills, shortness of breath, coughing, congestion, and more.
Are Kids Protected From The Delta Variant If Parents Are Vaccinated?
If you receive your Covid vaccine, will that help protect your children from this new variant? These experts agree that getting yourself and other eligible members of your household vaccinated does safeguard younger children.
“If you have children younger than 12, it becomes important that everybody around them is immunized — parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, teachers. I think parents should demand from their schools that everyone in the school be immunized. It’s the only way to protect children from not only the delta variant, but any other type of coronavirus infection,” says Rathore.
When Will Vaccines Be Available For Children Under 12?
The short answer is: Perhaps as early as this fall, though nothing is certain yet. The CDC recommends a Covid vaccine for children ages 12 and older; the Pfizer vaccine is currently approved for this age group, and Moderna has announced it will seek approval for use in kids 12 and older as well. Romper previously reported that Pfizer will request emergency use authorizations for even younger children soon: ages 6 through 11 years and 2 through 5 years this September, and infants 6 months to 2 years near the end of 2021.
“It is anticipated the data from Pfizer in 6-to-11-year-olds are going to be evaluated for emergency use authorization hopefully in September, and the other age groups evaluated subsequently over the next few months and in early 2022,” Bernstein says.
How Else Can I Protect My Unvaccinated Kids From The Delta Variant?
Infectious disease experts agree that getting your children vaccinated when possible is the best way to protect them from contracting any variant of the coronavirus. Until then, use everything you’ve learned from the pandemic so far to keep them safe.
“I think the best thing would be to vaccinate everybody around them, and then practice social distancing, wearing of masks, and good hand hygiene,” says Rathore.
And there’s another vaccine Bernstein recommends in order to keep kids healthy once school resumes: “I would also encourage people to get the flu vaccine this year. Although last year we saw a historically low amount of influenza, that happened because there was less person-to-person contact and therefore less spread, but this year I anticipate more people will be in contact with each other and therefore there will be more spread of the flu.”
Mobeen Rathore, M.D., chief of pediatric infectious disease and immunology at Wolfson Children’s Hospital
Hank Bernstein, D.O., MHCM, board-certified pediatrician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center and member of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices
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