Is the delta variant more dangerous for children? A growing number of kids are very sick

By Christian Spencer

Two of the most infectious states with the COVID-19 delta variant, Louisiana and Florida, are seeing increased numbers of sick children.

It is unclear why more children are sick due to the delta variant outbreak, but medical experts believe the surges in pediatric cases are due to the variant’s hypertranmissibility — how easy it is for the virus to circulate in a population that is unvaccinated.

Young children are not yet eligible to get the vaccine.

In New Orleans, 20 children in two weeks came down with severe cases of the delta variant, NBC News reported, and it appears it was more contagious than the previous outbreak.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Mark Kline, physician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, to NBC News. “We are seeing children fall ill that we just simply didn’t see in the first year of the pandemic, before the delta variant came along.”

In Orlando, doctors at Arnold Palmer Hospital have seen record cases among children, and they are cautious about what is to come.

“The last two weeks, cases have continued to increase,” Federico Laham, medical director for the hospital, told NBC. “I don’t think we have reached our peak.”

As Changing America previously reported, the coronavirus is accelerating in the U.S., but each state varies based on the percentage of people who are vaccinated — a resisting factor against the delta variant, a new study shows.

Calculating case acceleration rates, the reporter behind the latest STAT analysis found that Louisiana and Florida are both leading the states in fast cases.

While cases among children are growing at an alarming rate, the delta variant is not confirmed to be more dangerous in children than adults, Laham and other pediatric infectious disease experts nationwide told NBC News.

“It’s too early to tell,” Bernhard Wiedermann, an infectious diseases specialist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. told NBC News. “It’s going to take time and a collection of data from multiple sites to know” if delta is more virulent in kids than previous strains of the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is trying to determine whether the delta variant can be a more severe disease in children, Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, said during a briefing Thursday.

Walensky noted that researching the correlation between increased children’s cases and relaxed restrictions makes matters more complicated, saying, “The mitigation strategies that were used last summer, even in the winter, have not been employed in many of these areas that we are having surges right now.” 

“If more children get sicker, that’s just because more kids are getting sick,” said Paul Offit, a vaccine researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It’s clearly increased contagiousness, not increased virulence.”

From the beginning of the pandemic, more than 4.1 million children have been diagnosed with COVID-19, making up 14.3 percent of all cases. Now, children with COVID-19 represent 19 percent in weekly reported cases from July 15 to July 29, according to the latest data from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Over the course of the first year of this pandemic, the myth existed that children never got very ill from COVID-19,” Kline said. 

Because the delta variant is so contagious, he said, the increase in cases clearly shows the virus’s potential, even in young, otherwise healthy children.

“This delta variant is an infectious disease specialist’s worst nightmare,” Kline said.