More than just COVID-19
Then there are the latent effects of the virus to contend with.
“We’re not only seeing more children now with acute SARS-CoV-2 in the hospital, we’re starting also to see an uptick of MISC – or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children,” said Charlotte Hobbs, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Mississippi Children’s Hospital. “We are just beginning to [see] those cases, and we anticipate that’s going to get worse.”
Adding to COVID-19’s misery, another virus is also capitalizing on this increased mixing of kids back into the community. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) hospitalizes about 58,000 children under age 5 in the United States each year. The typical RSV season starts in the fall and peaks in February, along with influenza. This year, the RSV season is early, and it is ferocious.
The combination of the two infections is hitting children’s hospitals hard, and it’s layered on top of the indirect effects of the pandemic, such as the increased population of kids and teens who need mental health care in the wake of the crisis.
“It’s all these things happening at the same time,” said Mark Wietecha, CEO of the Children’s Hospital Association. “To have our hospitals this crowded in August is unusual.
And children’s hospitals are grappling with the same workforce shortages as hospitals that treat adults, while their pool of potential staff is much smaller.
“We can’t easily recruit physicians and nurses from adult hospitals in any practical way to staff a kids’ hospital,” Mr. Wietecha said.
Although pediatric doctors and nurses were trained to care for adults before they specialized, clinicians who primarily care for adults typically haven’t been taught how to care for kids.
Clinicians have fewer tools to fight COVID-19 infections in children than are available for adults.
“There have been many studies in terms of therapies and treatments for acute SARS-CoV-2 infection in adults. We have less data and information in children, and on top of that, some of these treatments aren’t even available under an EUA [emergency use authorization] to children: For example, the monoclonal antibodies,” Dr. Hobbs said.
Antibody treatments are being widely deployed to ease the pressure on hospitals that treat adults. But these therapies aren’t available for kids.
That means children’s hospitals could quickly become overwhelmed, especially in areas where community transmission is high, vaccination rates are low, and parents are screaming about masks.
“So we really have this constellation of events that really doesn’t favor children under the age of 12,” Dr. Hobbs said.
“Universal masking shouldn’t be a debate, because it’s the one thing, with adult vaccination, that can be done to protect this vulnerable population,” she said. “This isn’t a political issue. It’s a public health issue. Period.”
A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.