ORLANDO, Fla. – More than 4 million children have been infected with COVID-19 in the United States since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. With the highly infectious delta variant spreading across the country, doctors worry about that number continuing to climb.
Doctor Fatma Levent, of AdventHealth for Children, specializes in pediatric infectious diseases in Orlando, where COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
“Now what we’re seeing is younger children, younger adults are getting the infection and bringing it to their families,” Levent said.
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As the powerful delta variant sweeps the country, Levent says it’s affecting children more than previous strains. And more of them are ending up in the hospital.
“When they get it, it’s usually mild. However, they can get hospitalized, they can get pneumonia and other complications,” Levent said.
In June, Katia Tejada’s daughter Kaithlyn was one of those children.
“I was scared. I was panicking because she said she had a headache. Her body, it was in pain,” Tejada said.
The 15-year old is unvaccinated and spent three days in the hospital when the infection led to pneumonia.
“Yeah, it was a bit scary for me. My throat hurt a lot,” Kaithlyn Tejada said.
In Florida, about 90% of seniors have been vaccinated. But among children, the number is lagging far behind.
Only about 30% of children 12 to 17 have had their shots, slightly below the national average. Mississippi’s rate is just 12%, the lowest in the nation.
“At this phase of the pandemic, there’s really two choices: it’s to vaccinate, or you’re going to get COVID,” said Dr. Jennifer Bryan, MS State Medical Association.
As a mother of three teenagers, Levent is taking no chances.
“I really want to protect my children and I can proudly say that all my three children are fully vaccinated,” Levent said.
Kaithlyn thinks she was infected at a party, where people were unmasked. She’s on the mend, and the family plans to be much more cautious in the future.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says severe COVID is still rare among children but that more research is needed on the possible long-term effects of the virus.