Children now make up over a quarter of the country’s weekly COVID-19 cases, according to data released this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
As of Sept. 2, over 5 million children had tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, representing 15.1% of all cases, the AAP said. About 252,000 new cases were added last week, marking the largest number of child cases since the pandemic began.
“After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with over 750,000 cases added between August 5 and September 2,” the AAP said.
The increase comes shortly after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that weekly hospitalization rates for COVID-19 in children 0-4 years old in mid-August were 10 times higher than the rates seven weeks earlier, an increase that coincides with the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.
The same study revealed that hospitalization rates among unvaccinated children and teenagers between 12 and 17 years old were also 10 times higher than those among the fully vaccinated, suggesting that the COVID vaccine is highly protective against severe illness.
“There is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children,” including how the pandemic has affected children’s mental and emotional health and how the virus may impact children’s long-term physical health, the AAP said.
The increase also comes at a time when the country’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases — about 137,270 cases daily — is over three times higher than it was on Labor Day last year, CNN reported.
There currently is no COVID-19 vaccine approved for children under the age of 12, though the AAP wrote a letter in early August urging the Food and Drug Administration to speed up the authorization process, NPR reported.
“What we have to do is weigh, is the risk of the vaccine less than or greater than the risk of COVID infection to children?” Lee Savio Beers, president of the AAP, told NPR. “And I think it’s very clear to us that the risk of COVID in children far outweighs any potential risk of the vaccine.”
As of Sept. 8, about half of children between 12 to 15 years old and 59% of children 16 and 17 years old had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC.
Case numbers are also up for multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, a rare complication linked to COVID-19 in children. The condition tends to appear a few weeks after a child has been infected with the virus, and many MIS-C cases follow a COVID-19 infection that had no symptoms, CNN reported.Most children who develop MIS-C are likely to recover within a year, a U.K. study showed.