This month, as I begin my new year as AAP president, I’m unfortunately sharing a staggering statistic we have now reached in the pandemic: more than 580,000 new cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in children and teens in the week ending Jan. 6. This is the highest one-week tally at any time during the pandemic. It brings the total number of children who have tested positive for COVID-19 to nearly 8.5 million. More than a third of these cases have occurred in just the past four months.
For those of you working in pediatric practices, in clinics or in hospitals over the past few weeks, these numbers do not come as a surprise. You have seen it first-hand in your own communities as the Omicron variant has infected both vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. And because many children remain unvaccinated – or are too young to be vaccinated – children are bearing a disproportionate burden of this illness. So are pediatricians, as many of you also struggle with staffing shortages due to COVID infections among your team, just as the demand for pediatric health care is increasing. These are challenging times.
The good news is that we know much more about this virus than we did two years ago, and we have more tools at our disposal. We understand the disease and how best to isolate and care for infected patients. We have access to masks and other personal protective equipment. And we have a vaccine that offers strong protection against severe illness, even with Omicron.
As of Jan. 5, among 5- to 11-year-olds, about 7 million children – or 25% of this population – have received an initial dose of vaccine. Among 12- to 17-year-olds, 15.7 million teens, or 63%, have received at least one dose. Vaccination rates vary significantly state-to-state, and we have work to do among our more hesitant families who still have questions about the vaccine.
For families in your community who have been in the “wait and see” group on the question of the vaccine, this may be the data they need to move forward with the decision to vaccinate their children. Millions of children and teens have now been vaccinated, and the safety data are very reassuring. We know the vaccine works well to protect children from the worst effects of the disease, including MIS-C. And the rapid spread of this very contagious new variant means higher numbers of unvaccinated children (and adults) are more likely to become infected and require hospitalization. The AAP strongly recommends vaccination for everyone who is eligible, including boosters for those age 12 and older.
I know you are already doing so much, and I want to extend my appreciation for all the innovation you have brought into your work since the beginning of the pandemic. We have seen how you have incorporated the COVID vaccine into your already busy practices, managed new testing and PPE protocols, responded to shifting evidence and new guidance, and communicated with families in your practice who needed to hear from a trusted voice. We have also seen the personal toll that this pandemic has taken on you and your families as you rise to meet the challenge of this moment, as the virus has once again upended routines and threatened the safety and stability so many of you work so hard to maintain.
Please know the AAP is here for you. I am here for you. And while there are many things that continue to surprise me about this virus, the strength, the resolve, the unity of the pediatric workforce is not one of them. We will get through this together. And by speaking with one voice, offering reassurance in this moment of uncertainty, we will help our patients get through this as well.
The AAP will continue to evaluate and update recommendations for how to care for children and bring you this guidance as quickly as it is developed. You’ll find interim guidance, links to AAP Town Hall sessions, and other critical updates here. We want to hear from you, too. Please share questions, comments and challenges with our COVID-19 email box at COVIDfirstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for all you are doing, every day, in your communities to care for children.