As Chairs of Pediatrics at Florida Medical Schools, we are united in our fight to protect Florida’s children from infections, hospitalizations, deaths, and the long-term consequences of COVID-19.
About 8.4 million American children — more than 1 in 10 — have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. More children are testing positive than ever before and the numbers are skyrocketing. COVID-19 is disrupting the way children learn and families function.
COVID-19 is not a mild infection in children. Hospitalizations of children with COVID-19 soared 52% in the past month to an all-time high, and 823 U.S. children have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Another 55 children have died from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a late outcome of COVID-19 infection, and there is new evidence that some children, even those with mild symptoms, are suffering from “Long-haul” COVID with long-lasting respiratory, heart, brain and cognitive problems, including the risk of diabetes.
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Vaccines are safe and effective. Still, two months after the Food and Drug Administration approved COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds, only 14 percent have received the first two shots, and only 53 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated.
We offer several actions:
• We must harness the power of accurate, real-time data to fight pediatric COVID-19. We urgently need an online state of Florida dashboard that provides daily updated pediatric data on the number of pediatric COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, ward admissions cases, MIS-C cases and deaths. This dashboard should also provide data by county to identify hotspots and outbreaks; vaccination rate; and infection rates in children who are unvaccinated, have received at least one dose of vaccine, and have received all recommended doses.
• We urgently need to improve how we communicate with parents about the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, fight misinformation and increase vaccination rates. Several studies document that vaccination decreases infections, serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths. However, recent surveys indicate that 47% of parents of children aged 12 to 17 and 68% of parents of children aged 5 to 11 say they will definitely not have their child vaccinated, that they will not only if asked to do so. schools or want to wait and see how vaccinations work for other children. We must work to increase booster shots in children as the current omicron surge threatens to further disrupt our schools. And we must be ready in the spring to vaccinate children under the age of 5 if the data demonstrates the efficacy and safety of the vaccines, especially as the number of these young children hospitalized in the last month has reached a record pandemic level.
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• We need better awareness of our most vulnerable populations. Compared to their white counterparts, black, Latino and Asian children have lower COVID-19 testing rates but are more likely to be infected; Black and Latino children and those with chronic illnesses or developmental disabilities are more likely to be hospitalized and develop MIS-C; and Latino, Black, and Native American children have higher death rates. Greater awareness can be achieved through community engagement and pediatric mobile clinics administering vaccines in underserved neighborhoods.
• We must ensure that any child who needs a COVID-19 test can get it quickly. Our greatest improvements in child health – from vaccines that protect against many childhood infections to the survival of infants born four months earlier – have been achieved because we followed the science. So we need to use science to protect our children in schools and daycares. Besides vaccination, the most effective measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection include the correct use of medical masks, frequent hand washing and discouraging face touching. These measures must be implemented consistently across Florida schools and daycares, along with evidence-based protocols for testing, isolation and quarantine, and urgent vaccination of adults who care. children in our schools and daycares.
Dr. Glenn Flores is Chair of Pediatrics and Senior Associate Dean of Child Health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Dr. Daniel Armstrong is Executive Vice President of Pediatrics and Director of the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Dr. Patricia Emmanuel is the chair of pediatrics at the University of South Florida College of Medicine. Dr. Mark Hudak is director of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville. Dr. Desmond Schatz is acting director of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine.