Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to protect against COVID-19, but only a minority of pediatric patients are getting vaccinated for this infectious disease.
“Too much public perception, particularly coming from anti-vaccine activists, makes the erroneous claim that COVID is an adult disease and that kids handle it just fine,” said Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, FASTMNH, FAAP. “The reality is that COVID has caused a significant loss of pediatric lives, close to 1,300 at this point. And second, one in seven kids who have COVID can have prolonged symptoms, long COVID. We just don’t know the long-term consequences, and we won’t know for a few years, by which time it will be too late. Our window for intervention to protect children is right now.”
Dr. Hotez is Professor of Pediatrics, Molecular Virology and Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, the Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital, Co-Director of Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine. He will discuss the latest finding in COVID-19 vaccinations in children during COVID-19: Strategies to Protect Pediatric Patients on Sunday, November 13, 3–4 p.m. ET, in Terrace Ballroom I of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Meeting participants have the option to attend the session in person or on the meeting website via livestream, or to view the session on demand.
Parents are not getting the message about vaccinating children against COVID-19, Dr. Hotez said. Only about 30 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds in the U.S. are vaccinated, although the numbers vary widely by location. Vaccination rates for younger children remain in the single digits nationally.
“There needs to be greater public health messaging around the COVID disease burden in kids, which is still substantial,” Dr. Hotez said. “And we need to look at prevention strategies through vaccination, where we are underperforming. We are still at risk for another wave of COVID this winter. Just like we had the alpha wave and the omicron wave, we’re at risk for yet another wave, variant to be determined, starting in January. Rheumatologists have to understand that pediatric COVID is a serious concern, promote COVID vaccinations for their pediatric patients, and adopt vaccines as a routine part of their clinical practice.”
Rheumatologists should also be prepared to deal with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future in children and in adults. There is increasing evidence that at least some of the symptoms seen in long COVID are the result of autoantibody and microglial cell activation.
“These are the things that rheumatologists understand better than most subspecialists, equipping them to become experts in long COVID,” Dr. Hotez said, adding that these providers already have significant experience managing chronic, debilitating conditions.
“Adult rheumatologists have become very adept at persuading their patients to take COVID vaccines, and oftentimes boosters, on a far more frequent basis than non-immunocompromised patients,” he added. “Pediatric rheumatologists need to be doing the same thing. But the bar is higher because parents are less likely to vaccinate their kids.”
Anna Helena Jonsson, MD, PhD, Instructor in Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will focus on the current evidence on managing acute COVID-19 in immunocompromised pediatric patients.