By Annie Oeth
As schools around the state begin a new semester of in-person learning, University of Mississippi Medical Center pediatric experts and leaders from the state’s pediatrician group encourages parents to protect their children from COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.
“In the past two weeks, the number of children hospitalized at Children’s of Mississippi because of COVID-19 has tripled,” said Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair and professor of pediatrics. “We know the importance of in-person learning for children and want schools to be open safely. We encourage parents to have their children wear face masks when in school or in public and to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Today, 19 children diagnosed with COVID-19 are hospitalized at Children’s of Mississippi, the state’s only hospital specifically for kids and teens. Four of those patients are in intensive care.
“Most of our children admitted specifically for COVID-19 are unvaccinated or are younger than 5 years old and don’t qualify for vaccination,” said Dr. April Palmer, professor and chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UMMC.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vaccination against COVID-19 for children who are eligible.
This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized COVID-19 booster shots for those ages 12 to 15. Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations are available for children ages 5 to 11 at a lower dose. The vaccine was made available to ages 12 to 15 through an emergency use authorization in May.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been shown to be nearly 91 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in children ages 5 to 11.
“Vaccinations have been proven to be safe and effective in reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19 and making any breakthrough infections less severe,” said Dr. Charlotte Hobbs, professor of pediatric infectious diseases. “It’s important to protect children from becoming infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus since we have fewer monoclonal antibodies options since some of them are not effective against the Omicron variant.”
Parents should encourage their children ages 2 and older to wear face masks when in school, daycare or in public, said Dr. Anita Henderson, president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a pediatrician at the Hattiesburg Clinic.
Face masks are not recommended for children younger than 2.
“With the number of new cases of COVID-19 rising, it’s vital to keep children as safe as possible while they are learning,” Henderson said. “This means wearing face masks for in-person school and daycare and vaccinations for children as well as other family members. This is our best chance to prevent COVID-19 infections while keeping schools open.”