Children are being swept up in “a virus firestorm” with the arrival of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, “the king of transmissible Covid viruses,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said Monday.
“This narrative that it’s just a mild virus is not accurate,” Hotez told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “We’ve just done a terrible job vaccinating our kids across the country. … So even though there’s a lot of happy talk about the Omicron variant, less severe disease, when you add up all the factors … we’ve got a very serious situation facing us in this country, especially for the kids.”
Part of the problem lies in vaccine misinformation, Hotez said. “I think in the southern part of the United States, where the adolescent vaccination rates are about half, what you’re seeing is there’s a lot of negative press around these vaccines, in terms of coming from even members of Congress and some of the red states here that are working to discredit vaccines. And so that’s working against us,” he said.
“And the same parents who have adolescents that they’re not vaccinating, well, guess what? Those adolescents have younger brothers and sisters, and the parents aren’t vaccinating them, either. So we’ve got this kind of spiraling situation. So we need to step up our vaccine advocacy for little kids.”
Hotez noted that there’s more to the pandemic than cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“There’s too much of a narrative out there that says kids do really fine with this, don’t worry about it. We haven’t even spoken, Jake, about the long Covid symptoms that we’re seeing in kids. Great Ormond Street Hospital in the UK has done a pretty impressive study to show roughly 1 in 7 kids in London are going out to develop long Covid symptoms. We don’t know what that means for their neurodevelopment because in some adults, we’re seeing gray matter brain degeneration, cognitive declines,” Hotez said.
“We don’t know if that’s going to be a situation in kids," he added. "So this can haunt us for a long time, and the US needs to not only advocate better but bring up this situation and really start proactively doing some neurodevelopmental testing in these kids before and after their Covid.”