By Deb Balzer
The number of COVID-19 infections, mostly with the delta variant, continues to rise, especially in parts of the U.S. where vaccination rates are low. Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, says younger people are among those being infected with the highly contagious virus.
“The most important thing we can do to protect kids under 12 years of age, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated themselves, is to ensure that as many people who are around them and who are interacting with them are vaccinated.”
Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse
Dr. Rajapakse answered these questions about the delta variant and how it is affecting young people in this Q&A with the Mayo Clinic News Network:
Who is being impacted by the delta variant?
With the delta variant, we are seeing an increased number of cases amongst children. In the last couple of weeks, the American Academy of Pediatrics has reported a significant increase in COVID-19 cases amongst people under 18 years of age. We know that the delta variant is much more transmissible than the other prior variants of COVID-19.
And that extends to children as much as to older teenagers and adults as well. What we’re still working to understand is whether people get more sick with delta variant or not. These are somewhat surprisingly difficult things to tease out. When you have a large increase in the number of people getting infected, that proportionately results in more people in hospital and more people die. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the virus itself is more deadly.
What are ways adults can protect their children?
The most important thing we can do to protect kids under 12 years of age who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated themselves is to ensure that as many people who are around them and who are interacting with them are vaccinated. Anyone over 12 years of age should be getting their vaccine, both to protect themselves, but also to protect people who are not yet eligible, such as children under 12 years of age.
We know the vaccines are highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths in people who get the vaccine. We also know that they will significantly reduce your risk of spreading the infection to someone else.
What about the delta breakthrough cases in vaccinated people?
I want to emphasize those cases are getting a lot of headlines, but they’re very rare events. And they are not what is driving the current surge in cases that we’re seeing. The current surge is really amongst unvaccinated people predominantly young and middle-aged, who are winding up in hospital or in ICU because of infection. And we know that these are largely preventable.
Why should 12- to 18-year-olds get their COVID-19 vaccine before returning to school?
We do want kids to return to school, we know all the benefits of going to school. But right now, with what’s going on in our country and in our communities with delta variant spread, you’re really making a choice between getting vaccinated or getting COVID-19. This delta variant is just that contagious.