Pediatricians wrestle with treating COVID and getting parents to take it seriously

Friday, September 3, 2021
Pediatricians wrestle with treating COVID, getting parents onboard
In the last two weeks of August, more than 14,000 North Carolina children caught COVID-19, according to state health officials.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's a good problem that the COVID-19 pandemic affects children less than it does adults, but that nonetheless presents problems as more kids go to the hospital with the disease.

"We found that it affects so many different body systems," Dr. Ben Joyner, Chief of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at UNC Children's Hospital in Chapel Hill, told ABC11. "I think that's the message that we have as pediatricians: we don't know that information. We don't know. We hope there are no long-term consequences."

More than 14,000 North Carolina children caught COVID-19 in the last two weeks of August, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. This record number comes as the Delta variant continues to rapidly drive up the number of cases. An ABC11 I-Team analysis of state data, moreover, found that children made up one of every five COVID-19 cases reported in North Carolina for July and August. Last summer, one in 10 cases were linked to children.

Despite the uptick in hospitalizations, very few COVID-19 cases lead to hospital visits for children. Those who are obese or have other chronic illnesses are more likely to require hospital treatment.

"Yes, the illness in general, appears to be mild in kids when they first get the illnesses," Dr. Joyner added. "We don't know the long-term consequences of the other chronic diseases, the ways that their lives will be limited in the future as a result of this infection. Those are the things we worry about. All those activities that kids might want to participate when they are older, all those activities they want to do outdoors. There may be injuries to the heart that causes heart disease so they'll not be able to swim, not be able to run cross country or participate in track activities. Those are the things we worry about."

While it may be a good problem that younger people don't get infected, Dr. Joyner said that in turn creates more problems when considering treatments -- because there isn't a lot of data on things like monoclonal antibodies and children, "We wrestle with it because we know that these are our only therapies available. These are the only therapies that have been shown to work."

Lower vaccine rates lead to more child hospitalizations

As North Carolina struggles to reach the 60% mark for vaccinated individuals, the CDC is reporting new data showing the connection between vaccination rates among adults and the number of children hospitalized.

Researchers on Friday reported hospitalizations among children and adolescents increased four times in states with low levels of vaccination compared to states with high levels of vaccination, reinforcing the notion that vaccinated adults also protect children.

A second study, moreover, showed a dramatic increase in the rate of hospitalizations among unvaccinated 12-17 year-olds which are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.

"There are kids who through no fault of their own don't have a competent immune system, who can't protect themselves because of the prevalence of COVID in the community," Dr. Joyner asserted. "The one thing we can do is get vaccinated to slow the spread."