Nearly everyone has been affected by the public health crisis caused by COVID-19. There have been countless losses, and everything has changed from the ways we interact to the ways we work and learn. As vaccination rates rose, there was a faint hope for returning to a new normal after the lockdowns and quarantines. However, the prospect of normalcy was thrown into uncertainty by the Delta variant of COVID-19, which has caused infections to surge in less vaccinated portions of the United States.
According to a report published by JAMA Network, “Many rural counties report that less than 25% of residents are fully vaccinated, raising the likelihood of localized surges in these areas.” While many adults have not yet been vaccinated, either by choice or from a lack of availability, others are still unable to be vaccinated. Children are particularly vulnerable to the Delta variant, which is a more contagious version than earlier viral strains. At this time, there is no vaccine approved for children ages 5–12. In an interview with Yale Medicine pediatric infectious diseases specialist and a vaccinologist, Inci Yildirim, MD, Ph.D., she stated that “a recent study from the United Kingdom showed that children and adults under 50 were 2.5 times more likely to become infected with Delta.”
With the increase in immunization and our eyes on leaving quarantine, we must look at the risk that the Delta variant poses to those still unvaccinated, with children making up a fifth of the reported infections in the United States in the last week of July.
While nearly 174 million Americans are vaccinated (53%), there are still those who have not yet received the vaccine, including children under 12. The Atlantic reported, “as the hyper-transmissible Delta variant hammers the United States, the greatest hardships are being taken on by the unvaccinated, a population that includes some 50 million children younger than age 12.”
As reopening continues, the health of the 50 million children still ineligible to receive the vaccine who remain at high risk of contracting the Delta variant, must be considered. The Delta variant has been called the “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” as those unvaccinated are the most susceptible. Though some breakthrough cases have emerged in vaccinated individuals, the Mayo Clinic has reported that these are rare, 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 the hospital or ICU because of infection. And we know that these are largely preventable.”
Less than one-third of adolescents aged 12–17 years have received a complete series of the vaccination, and nearly one-third of “adolescents aged 12–17 years hospitalized with COVID-19 during March 2020–April 2021 required intensive care,” according to the CDC. Furthermore, the CDC data from June to mid-August indicated that “hospitalization rates were approximately 10 times higher in unvaccinated compared with fully vaccinated adolescents.” Young children are also significantly more impacted by the Delta variant as well; according to the AAP, children ages 0-4 years have had the highest pediatric hospitalization rates since the start of the pandemic, with the rate in mid-August nearly 10 times that of late June. This highlights the need for children of this country to be protected from the Delta variant, especially as children begin to return to the classroom for the fall.