Editor’s Note: KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.
Eighteen months into the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Delta variant fueling a massive resurgence of disease, many hospitals are hitting a heartbreaking new low. They’re now losing babies to the coronavirus.
The first reported Covid-related death of a newborn occurred in Orange County, Florida, and an infant has died in Mississippi. Merced County in California lost a child under a year old in late August.
“It’s so hard to see kids suffer,” said Dr. Paul Offit, an expert on infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which — like other pediatric hospitals around the country — has been inundated with Covid patients.
Until the delta variant laid siege this summer, nearly all children seemed to be spared from the worst ravages of Covid, for reasons scientists didn’t totally understand.
Although there’s no evidence the delta variant causes more severe disease, the virus is so infectious that children are being hospitalized in large numbers — mostly in states with low vaccination rates. Nearly 30% of Covid infections reported for the week that ended Sept. 9 were in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Doctors diagnosed more than 243,000 cases in children in the same week, bringing the total number of Covid infections in kids under 18 since the onset of the pandemic to 5.3 million, with at least 534 deaths.
Experts say it’s a question of basic math. “If 10 times as many kids are infected with Delta than previous variants, then, of course, we’re going to see 10 times as many kids hospitalized,” said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
But the latest surge gives new urgency to a question that has mystified scientists throughout the pandemic: What protects most children from becoming seriously ill? And why does that protection sometimes fail?