Tag Archives: Children

SF Chronicle on COVID vaccine exemptions: unvaccinated people put young children at risk

Editorial: Vaccine mandates work. But not if California gives fake ‘personal belief exemptions’ a pass

San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Board, Oct. 17, 2021
Lower doses of vaccine work for children.

In January 2015, an outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland in Anaheim spread across California and eventually throughout North America. All told, the virus made its way to seven U.S. states, Mexico and Canada, infecting 159 people, the vast majority of whom were unvaccinated.

A Center for Disease Control and Prevention study of the Americans who were infected found that most were either too young to receive a vaccine or declined to be vaccinated, citing personal reasons. The natural conclusion was that unvaccinated people put young children at risk. And that “personal belief exemptions” from vaccine mandates can be dangerous loopholes that empower irrational objections to inoculation and endanger public health.

In the aftermath of this outbreak and several others in California, state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, a pediatrician, introduced legislation to crack down on lax personal belief and medical exemptions for otherwise mandatory school vaccinations. That bill, SB277, received huge pushback from the burgeoning anti-vax movement, with actress Jenny McCarthy among others, stirring up opposition. But the effort was eventually victorious; it is now very difficult in California for parents to get their kids a medical or personal exemption from traditional childhood immunizations for 10 serious illnesses (such as polio) without legitimate reasons.

Just because your kid is allergic to cats doesn’t mean they’re allergic to vaccines. They need to get their shots.

And yet concessions made to pass the bill now have implications for COVID. SB277 did not anticipate future outbreaks of new diseases that would require vaccination. As such, the law includes an amendment that allows the governor and public authorities to unilaterally issue new vaccine mandates “only if exemptions are allowed for both medical reasons and personal beliefs.”

And so, with COVID exemptions, we’re effectively back to square one. Gov. Gavin Newsom and his public health authorities can (and did) mandate Food and Drug Administration-approved COVID shots as a prerequisite for attending in-person schooling. But removing the same specious personal belief and medical exemptions that we did in 2016 will require the Legislature to act.

It should. Californians have already proven themselves adept at exploiting the old exemptions. And the incoherent opposition to safe and effective vaccines, sadly, is now stronger with backers who are far more formidable than McCarthy.

All indications are that COVID will become endemic, meaning it will be with us in one form or another in perpetuity. While this sounds terrifying, it doesn’t have to be. Vaccines can protect us from serious COVID illness and death. But none of us are born immune. Just like with measles and polio, each passing generation will need to be inoculated. Without vaccines, this virus will continue to kill. Which is why mandating shots for the young is so essential.

Schools are the logical place for society to make its stand and stop COVID’s deadly rampage for good. Everyone is entitled to an education, but vaccination is an appropriate exchange. Moreover, the current status quo of constant testing and quarantines is unsustainable.

“Think about how much schools are spending on COVID control,” says Pan. “Those are resources pulled away from primary education. Vaccinating kids means less spending on COVID control and more on their education.”

The Legislature is out of session until 2022. But when it returns, amending state public health laws for the COVID-era will be imperative. California doesn’t just need to pave the way for mass COVID vaccinations, it needs to give public health authorities the flexibility they need to deal with future emergencies.

What happens when a new pandemic arises that requires a new vaccine? The legislative process takes time. And in public health emergencies, time is too precious to waste fighting the Jenny McCarthys of the world.

The Pfizer COVID vaccine is now fully approved by the FDA for people age 16 and over. Emergency authorization for kids 12-15 is in effect, and it could be granted for kids age 5-11 by Halloween.

Vaccine mandates work. They can and will help neuter COVID and keep it from re-emerging as a deadly threat. They can do the same for future infectious diseases where safe and effective vaccines are made available. But danger will linger if California doesn’t put a permanent stop to the fake excuses for avoiding vaccines.


This commentary is from The Chronicle’s editorial board. We invite you to express your views in a letter to the editor. Please submit your letter via our online form: SFChronicle.com/letters.

Almost 72,000 children and teens caught Covid-19 last week – five times as many kids who were sick at the end of June

Covid-19 cases among US children and teens jumped 84% in a week, pediatrician group says

CNN, by Jen Christensen and Theresa Waldrop, August 4, 2021

Almost 72,000 children and teens caught Covid-19 last week – a “substantial” increase from a week earlier, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported Tuesday.

The group counted 71,726 new cases from July 22 – 29. That is a “substantial” increase from the nearly 39,000 cases reported a week before, and five times as many kids who were sick at the end of June. The definition of a child varies by state but generally includes those up to age 17 or 18.

After decreases in reported cases over the past couple of months, the July numbers started trending upward again as the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus became dominant in the country.

“That’s high and considering the fact that we are vaccinated now, what that’s telling us is that unvaccinated people are getting infected in higher numbers because the virus is more infectious with the Delta variant,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chief of the division of infectious diseases in the Department of Pediatrics at Stanford Medicine and chair of the AAP committee on infectious diseases.

More than 4.2 million kids have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. Children and teens represented 19% of reported cases in the latest weekly data.

The report comes as schools have just started or will soon start, with some requiring no masks or social distancing, and as cases in many parts of the country are surging and hospitalizations at levels not seen in months.

At one Georgia school, more than 100 students were in quarantine after nine students and five staff members tested positive for Covid-19 just days after the first day back.

Children under 12 years old are not eligible for any of the three vaccines currently used in the United States, and the fast-spreading Delta variant has put them especially at risk, health experts say.

Vaccines are being tested now in children as young as 6 months, but they probably won’t be available for children younger than 12 for several more months.

Dr. Trey Dunbar, president of Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, agrees, saying that children are being victimized by a pandemic that has a simple solution: adult vaccination.

“Covid is a preventable disease,” he said. “It’s hard for us as pediatricians to see kids affected by a preventable disease. Children aren’t like adults. They don’t have the choice to get vaccinated. Parents are responsible for those choices. So yes, it makes a big difference when adults make decisions for kids and adults make decisions that could maybe prevent diseases that we see in children.”

Leaders around the country are taking various approaches to keep children safe, from Utah Gov. Spencer Cox saying the state will give away KN-95 masks to children, to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson calling on the state’s legislature to amend a law in order to give school districts the flexibility to require masks.

The academy, which represents pediatricians, pointed out that severe illness still appears to be rare among children. The number of hospitalizations has remained steady through much of the pandemic. Children accounted for 1.3%-3.5% of the hospitalizations, depending on the state.

Seven states have reported no child deaths from Covid-19 during the pandemic. As of Monday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 526 deaths among children ages 0-17.

Among the some 25 million US children between 12 and 17 years old, about 10.9 million have been vaccinated with at least one dose of vaccine, according to CDC data.

CNN’s Naomi Thomas contributed to this report.

100,000 children have the virus – thank goodness Benicia Schools will open Aug 17 with distance learning only

[For latest info on Benicia Schools see August 6 Virtual Plan Update. For other BUSD information see Reopening / COVID Response. – R.S.] 

Children and the virus: As schools reopen, much remains unknown about the risk to kids and the peril they pose to others

Washington Post, by Haisten Willis, Chelsea Janes and  Ariana Eunjung Cha, August 10, 2020
Parent Amanda Seghetti was concerned when photos on social media showed students — bereft of masks and not observing social distancing — crowding Georgia schools last week. (Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Washington Post)

DALLAS, Ga. — The photos showed up on social media just hours into the first day of school: 80 beaming teens in front of Etowah High School near Atlanta, with not a mask on a single face and hardly six inches of distance between them — let alone the recommended six feet.

Amanda Seghetti, a mom in the area, said her parent Facebook group lit up when the pictures of the seniors were posted. Some people thought the images were cute. Others freaked out. Seghetti was in the latter constituency.

“It’s like they think they are immune and are in denial about everything,” Seghetti said.

Pictures of packed school hallways in Georgia and news of positive tests on the first day of classes in Indiana and Mississippi sparked the latest fraught discussions over the risk the coronavirus presents to children — and what’s lost by keeping them home from school. Friday brought reports of more infections among Georgia students, with dozens forced into quarantine in Cherokee County, among other places.

For months, parents and teachers, epidemiologists and politicians have chimed in with their views on the many still-unanswered questions about the extent to which the virus is a threat to children — and the extent to which they can fuel its spread.

A report from leading pediatric health groups found that more than 97,000 U.S. children tested positive for the coronavirus in the last two weeks of July, more than a quarter of the total number of children diagnosed nationwide since March. As of July 30, there were 338,982 cases reported in children since the dawn of the pandemic, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.

President Trump has repeatedly maintained the virus poses little threat to children.

“The fact is they are virtually immune from this problem,” Trump said Wednesday in an interview with Axios.

Eight months after the World Health Organization received the first report of a “pneumonia of unknown cause” in China, much remains uncertain about the coronavirus and children.

Doctors are more confident that most children exposed to the virus are unlikely to have serious illness, a sentiment backed by a report published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that concluded children are far less likely to be hospitalized with covid-19, the illness caused by the virus, than adults. But when children do fall seriously sick, the burden of illness is borne disproportionately: That same CDC report concluded that Hispanic children are approximately eight times more likely and Black children five times more likely to be hospitalized with covid-19 than their White peers.

Early studies on children and the virus were small and conflicting. But accumulating evidence suggests the coronavirus may affect younger children differently than older ones.

For example,doctors say themultisystem inflammatorysyndrome linked to the virus — known as MIS-C —that has appeared in some children weeks after infectionpresents differently in younger children than in teens and young adults. Infants and preschoolers who have been diagnosed with the syndrome have symptoms mirroring Kawasaki, a disease of unknown cause that inflames blood vessels.In the older group, the consequences appear more severe, with doctors describing it more like a shock syndrome that has led to heart failure and even death.

Several studies suggest adolescence could mark a turning point for how the virus affects youths — and their ability to spread the pathogen.

One paper published in July in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that children younger than 5 with mild to moderatecases ofcovid-19 had much higher levels of virus in their noses than older children and adults — suggesting they could be more infectious. That study, conducted by doctors at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, used data from 145 children tested at drive-through sites in that region.

A study out of South Korea examining household transmission also found age-based differences in children. Puzzlingly, it seemed to reach an opposite conclusion about transmission than the Chicago researchers did. Children under age 10 did not appear to pass on the virus readily, while those between 10 and 19 appeared to transmit the virus almost as much as adults did.

Max Lau, an epidemiologist at Emory University tracking superspreader events in the state in collaboration with the Georgia Department of Public Health, said two striking trends have emerged even as work continues on an analysis of recent data.

Disease detectives have found relatively few infections among young children even after the state loosened its coronavirus-related shutdown. Researchers elsewhere have noted there hasn’t been a clear, documented case of a young child triggering an outbreak. In contrast, cases spiked among 15- to 25-year-olds, suggesting they may be driving the spread of the virus.

“When the shelter-in-place lifted, they perceived that they could go back to normal life and that’s what I observed,” Lau said.

In May, Jerusalem’s Gymnasia Ha’ivrit high school was the center of a major outbreak that public health officials said seeded transmission to other neighborhoods. In June, an overnight YMCA camp in Georgia was forced to close after 260 of 597 children and staff members tested positive for the virus — an event some experts heralded as a parable for what can happen when young people are allowed to gather without being attentive to wearing masks or maintaining physical distance. At that camp, the first to come down with symptoms and be sent home was a teenage counselor.

Other gatherings among teens have led to smaller outbreaks. In New Jersey, it was a party at a country club that left at least 20 teens infected. In Michigan, health officials said more than 100 teens in three counties have tested positive since mid-July following graduations and other parties.

Sadiya S. Khan, an assistant professor of cardiology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said social practices, rather than biology, may explain why teens and young adults appear to be spreading infection.

“They are more likely to be out and about. They are more likely to not have experienced any consequences,” Khan said. “There has been a lot of attention to the fact that people who are older have a worse course and if you’re young, it doesn’t feel as dangerous, so they might think, ‘Why be as careful?’ ”

Khan said she worries schools that don’t enforce mask-wearing and social distancing can be laboratories for superspreader events rippling out to the broader community.

For years, the flu vaccine was targeted to adults. Then, researchers recognized the role of children in spreading the virus and advised they be inoculated. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Medical history tells us that children’s role in infectious diseases is not always what we first assume. In 1960, in response to significant deaths among the elderly during the 1957-1958 influenza pandemic, the surgeon general recommended flu vaccines for people 65 and older. It wasn’t until decades later that studies showed that mortality among older people could be reduced by vaccinating the young. In 2002, the CDC recommended flu shots for infants and in 2008 expanded that to school-age children.

With the coronavirus pandemic, like any disease outbreak, research takes time, and experts say decisions being made about reopening schools are necessarily being made without the full picture of the risk the virus poses to children.

For example, the CDC’s study of that Georgia YMCA camp did not include detailed tracing of how cases spread among campgoers. Did one teenage counselor spread the virus to the whole camp? Did that counselor infect a few younger children, who in turn infected other younger children?

Similarly, that study did not document what happened to families of the infected when the children returned home. Did they bring the virus back to their families, thereby dispelling the notion that children do not transmit the virus to adults? Or, if infections did spread, was it simply the result of high viral prevalence in Georgia, and not the result of contact with a campgoer?

As the case of the Georgia camp illustrates, measuring the risk younger children face in returning to school continues to be an inexact art. Parents are left with the agonizing and anxiety-riddled task of evaluating that potential peril for themselves. And they must weigh the potential health risks of the virus against the educational, social, developmental and economic consequences of children remaining out of the classroom.

Teachers unions from Florida to Ohio have protested plans to fully reopen schools, arguing that even if a few months of data suggests children are not likely to suffer severe outcomes from the virus, they could still pass it to vulnerable adults.

On Aug. 2 — hours before the first day of school — the principal of North Paulding High School near Atlanta sent a letter to parents informing them of coronavirus infections on the football team. Video on the Facebook page for the team’s parent-run booster club showed members of the team, with no masks or distance between them, lifting in a weight room as part of a fundraising event a week earlier.

On the first day of school, students posted a picture of hallways crammed with unmasked classmates. One student was initially suspended for posting the pictures. The school overturned that suspension Friday.

Within days, the school burst into the national spotlight, and the issue spawned heated arguments in a local Facebook group called “What’s Happening Paulding,” with parents occasionally descending into name-calling and expletive-laced tirades as they argued over whether the pictures should warrant concern. Sunday night, North Paulding High sent a letter to parents announcing the school would be closed to in-person learning for at least two days because of nine cases of the coronavirus.

John Cochran, the father of a ninth-grader and middle-schooler in the Georgia school system, said in an interview he felt it wasn’t safe for his children to attend school in person, in part because multiple adults in their family are immunocompromised.

“That was one thing we stressed to the kids — they’ve got too many adults that they are regularly in contact with who could be in bad shape if they pick this up from them,” Cochran said. “Personally, I didn’t want that on my kids’ conscience that they went to school and got their mother, stepdad, dad or grandparents sick.”

Seghetti has decided to keep son Kaiden, 11, out of his Georgia school.
Seghetti has decided to keep son Kaiden, 11, out of his Georgia school. (Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Washington Post)

In Georgia’s Cherokee County, where the 80 students gathered for that unmasked photo, Seghetti said she knows she’s in the minority in deciding to keep her 11-year-old son, Kaiden, home from school.

Seghetti said after seeing photos shared by parents from inside schools and learning that two elementary campuses in the district already had reported coronavirus cases — a second-grader Tuesday and a first-grader Wednesday — she is confident she made the right decision. Cherokee County schools spokeswoman Barbara P. Jacoby said the schools have implemented changes to try to keep students safe, including staggering bell times to avoid hall crowding and providing students with two masks each they can wear if they wish.

Karin Jessop’s two children, ages 12 and 13, attended that YMCA day camp at Lake Burton where the residential camp outbreak unfolded. Her children, who were at the camp for four weeks but came home each night, did not get infected; the outbreak was among those who stayed overnight, another reminder of the unpredictability of the spread.

Jessop, a technology company executive, said after news of the outbreak broke, “a lot of moms were getting stressed out about making the wrong decision and worried what people will think.”

“At the end of the day, it’s your family,” she said, adding she believes staying home affects her children’s development, which makes the camp experience worth the risk.

“Many of these kids have been home since March, and if you have super gregarious, extroverted kids, they are used to and need that interaction.”