After a summer schedule bursting with the welcome return of summer camps, outdoor concerts and more, the scary surge of the COVID-19 delta variant we now find ourselves living in has many families on edge. So, we checked in with Dr. Dawn Nolt, a professor and pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). She answered all our pressing questions about delta and gave us advice on ways to continue to keep our kids safe during this latest stage in the pandemic.
Q: As a pediatric infectious disease expert, what are the most important things you’ve learned about the delta variant and its impact on children?
A: The delta variant spreads much more easily than previous forms of the coronavirus. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, delta is about as contagious as chickenpox.
We don’t yet know the long-term impacts of the delta variant in children. This is why it is so important to help protect children not yet able to receive a vaccination.
Q: Speaking of vaccinations, when do you think the COVID-19 vaccine will be authorized for emergency use for children younger than 12?
A: It is not entirely clear. Manufacturers run clinical trials and need to generate results, and then the manufacturers ask for FDA authorization. FDA officials need time to study results — at least 2 weeks, if not more — to make a decision. Pfizer and Moderna are running clinical trials to test vaccines in children as young as 6 months old, but results are not out yet. Both companies agreed in July to expand their trials, possibly delaying results. Pfizer expects results from trials this fall, starting with ages 5 to 11 and followed by ages 2 to 5. Pfizer plans to seek FDA authorization shortly after. It expects results from trials involving ages 6 months to 2 years in October or November, and will likely seek FDA authorization by early 2022. … Moderna predicts that it will have FDA authorization for use of its vaccine in ages under 12 in the winter (late 2021 or early 2022). Johnson & Johnson is testing its vaccine in ages 12-17, and data are still being gathered.
Q: So, how can we keep kids younger than 12 who are not yet able to get immunized safe during this surge?
A: For those able to do so, getting vaccinated is the single best thing to do to prevent severe illness from COVID-19 for yourself and others. This includes those unable to be vaccinated including children under 12, and those with compromised immune systems. Additionally, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people who need to interact with the community should follow at least two of these three precautions: Wear your mask indoors in all public spaces or with people outside of your household; wear your mask outdoors where physical distancing is not possible; limit gatherings and if you do gather, do it outside; and physically distance whenever possible.
Q: What is your advice to adults who are immunized but might be hesitant to get their young kids immunized?
A: So far, Pfizer’s vaccine is authorized for ages 12 and older, and the CDC has granted full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for persons over the age of 16. The vaccine is safe and effective against preventing severe illness. Parents are encouraged to speak with reliable sources, such as their family health care providers or public health authorities, to obtain accurate information that can aid in informed decision-making regarding vaccines and children.
Q: What should parents be focusing on as we head into the new school year?
A: In addition to taking precautions to keep your child safe from COVID-19: masking, distancing, hand washing, etc., parents should also ensure their kids complete their regular well-child checkup, and making sure that they are up-to-date on all regularly scheduled vaccines including influenza, Tdap, meningococcal, etc.
Q: What should I do if my kid has a low-grade fever or the sniffles, with no known COVID-19 exposure?
A: Contact your child’s primary care provider. They can help you to determine opportunities for testing and at home care. Because Oregon’s hospital systems are at extremely high capacities, and the delta variant is surging – if your child’s symptoms are mild – it is recommended to consult with your primary care team online or via phone first, to further help prevent potential transmission of the virus. In-person visits to the hospital or doctor’s office should be reserved for severe illness at this time.
Q: My child struggles to properly wear a mask — sometimes taking it off entirely. What can I do?
A: Parents can help children adjust to wearing a face mask/covering over their nose and mouth by considering the following options:
- Explain the importance of wearing a mask. For younger children, continuously remind them that “Wearing a mask keeps you and others safe from germs.”
- Choose fun mask patterns that excite your children. Perhaps a mask with their favorite cartoon character or favorite color.
- Normalize wearing a mask through play: Practice by putting a mask on your child’s favorite toy/doll or print out coloring pages that show children wearing masks.
- Model good behavior: One of the best ways to encourage your child to wear a face mask is to wear one yourself.