Fears are growing about rising Covid-19 infections among children as the United States is turning into a bellwether for other countries, some of which are preparing for a return to school without mask mandates in classrooms and access to vaccines for younger age groups.
The US has seen an exponential growth in cases among kids, reaching levels unseen since last winter’s surge. The week ending August 19 saw more than 180,000 cases in children — up from around 38,000 cases a week towards the end of July — according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. And with the return to school, the Delta variant on the rise and winter approaching, health officials are concerned it could get worse. On Monday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave full approval to Pfizer’s vaccine for people aged 16 and older. Approval for youths aged 12 to 15 is expected to follow soon.
In the UK, infections dropped when the summer vacation began in July and fears are growing that figures will explode once again when schools reopen in September. There are no mask mandates in classrooms and while the UK medicines watchdog has approved the Pfizer and Moderna shots for children and teenagers aged 12 and above, only clinically vulnerable teenagers have been able to get them so far. The government said Sunday that 16- and 17-year-olds will be offered the vaccine by next week, but there has been no announcement on the inoculation of younger children.
Two studies released this week suggested waning immunity from Covid-19 vaccines but stressed that the shots still provide high levels of protection against severe disease for most of the population. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that vaccine efficacy at preventing infection dropped from 91% to 66% once the Delta variant accounted for most of the circulating virus. UK researchers found that protection decreased slightly after six months among people with two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. The worry is that people who were vaccinated around six months ago could be at an increased risk of Covid-19, lending further evidence for booster shots in the fall.
The news comes as the US’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the pandemic will not be under control until the spring of next year — and even that timeframe would need most American vaccine skeptics to change their minds. Despite mounting studies showing the benefits of vaccination, tens of millions of Americans are hesitant to get the shots.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said this week that Covid-19 cases appear to be plateauing globally after increasing for nearly two months. The Western Pacific and the Americas saw the largest increase in cases last week, the former partially driven by the widening Delta outbreak in Australia. Over the past week, the country’s single-day caseload has repeatedly reached new highs, surpassing its previous record from August last year.
The merits of the zero-Covid strategy followed by many Asia-Pacific countries have come into question amid this regional rise in cases. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted at an end to the country’s zero-Covid strategy in an opinion piece published Sunday, warning Australians to expect a rise in infections as restrictions ease. New Zealand authorities reported 62 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases Wednesday — the highest number in a single day. However, China reported no new cases on Monday for the first time since July, as authorities double down on their stringent zero-Covid approach.