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Louisiana Has The Fastest Growing Rate Of Cases of COVID-19 Among Kids

Dr. Erin Biro, a neurosurgeon with Ochsner Health, holds her 3-year-old son, Christian, as he receives a shot as part of the Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 trial.
Ochsner Health
Dr. Erin Biro, a neurosurgeon with Ochsner Health, holds her 3-year-old son, Christian, as he receives a shot as part of the Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 vaccine trial.

The delta variant is causing skyrocketing cases of COVID-19 among children in Louisiana. Here’s what this latest surge in the pandemic means for kids.

One In Four Children Are Testing Positive For COVID-19

The most striking increase is in the number of kids testing positive for COVID-19.

Among children ages zero to 18 tested for COVID-19 by Ochsner Health, the rate of positive tests was below 4 percent at the end of June.

Now, it’s one in four.

Louisiana has the fastest growing rate of new COVID-19 cases among children in the nation, according to the latest report from the American Association of Pediatrics.

“There is clearly a lot more virus in the pediatric community,” said Dr. William Lennarz, the system chair for pediatrics for Ochsner Health.

The spike is being driven by the highly contagious delta variant, which is causing the worst surge of the pandemic to ravage Louisiana’s hospitals, with the vast majority of cases hitting unvaccinated people, including kids.

Ochsner hospitals have been treating between five to 15 children hospitalized with COVID-19 over the past week. Only a few weeks ago they had no pediatric patients with COVID.

Lennarz said there have been times in the past week when nearly all of the pediatric ICU beds in the New Orleans area were full, in part due to COVID.

The hospitalizations mark a dramatic increase, though kids remain a fraction of those getting seriously sick. As of Friday, 2,421 people were hospitalized in Louisiana for COVID-19.

“What is different is that children now make up the most susceptible population, because children under 12 are 100 percent not vaccinated,” Lennarz said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating whether the delta variant is more virulent — that is, likely to make children sicker — or whether kids are simply falling ill because the delta variant is so much more contagious than previous strains of the coronavirus.

Only A Fraction Of Eligible Children Are Vaccinated For COVID-19

There are roughly 360,000 children in Louisiana eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines, and only a fraction are vaccinated.

The Louisiana Department of Health reports 49,222 children aged 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated — about 13 percent.

Another 10 percent of children — 37,578 — have had one dose.

That is significantly below the national average.

Across the country, half of 16 and 17-year-olds and 40 percent of those aged 12 to 15 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled by the American Association of Pediatrics.

About 41 percent of 16 and 17 year-olds are fully vaccinated; 29 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds are fully vaccinated.

Experts say unvaccinated children pose a risk not just to their own health, but to the people around them.

“If there's a grandparent at home, if there's an immunocompromised parent at home, a child can spread that to those family members, even when vaccinated, and then they can end up needing care,” said Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, the medical director of infection control and prevention at Ochsner Health.

COVID-19 Vaccines Are Safe And Extremely Effective In Children

The American Association of Pediatrics and the CDC recommend children eligible for the vaccine get the shot.

The Pfizer pediatric trial showed 100 percent efficacy for serious COVID disease, said Baumgarten — meaning the vaccine prevented every single child from becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

There is no evidence the vaccines impact development, puberty or fertility, said Baumgarten, whose two school-aged children have been vaccinated.

Experts say the risks of serious illness from COVID-19 is far greater than from the vaccines.

“Cardiac effects are rare and much, much less serious from the vaccine than from the actual infection of the virus,” Lennarz said.

Ochsner hospitals are seeing far more children suffering from inflammation of the heart — called myocarditis and pericarditis — and a COVID-related condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), after a COVID-19 infection than after a vaccination.

Dr. Erin Biro, a neurosurgeon with Ochsner Medical Center, put her three children, aged 6, 3, and 1, in the Pfizer pediatric vaccine trial after reviewing data on the risks associated with the vaccine, compared to risks associated with COVID-19.

“The only way that we feel that our kids truly are going to be protected from serious COVID outcomes is with vaccination,” she said during a recent briefing with journalists.

“Now with the delta variant going around, and the uptake in pediatric cases, pediatric hospitalizations, pediatric ICU admissions, and even pediatric deaths, I think that cements our decision even more so,” Biro added.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, nine children under the age of 18 have died of COVID-19 in Louisiana.

Currently, only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for children aged 12 to 17.

Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.

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