Our guest is Dr. Bryan Sibley, a well-known pediatrician in Lafayette who has dedicated his professional life to taking care of our youngest.
We asked Bryan to join us to discuss how the Delta variant of COVID has evolved to affect children in ways that the initial wave of coronavirus never did.
It’s been a tough year and a half for all of us, including pediatricians. In the initial stages of the coronavirus pandemic, children were socially distancing, not in school and playing on their school playgrounds, no longer participating in organized sports and activities. They were staying home and playing in the backyard. For the first time in years, they weren’t getting sick, breaking bones, coming down with viruses. Entire days would go by with no children being admitted to the hospital or going in with their parents to see their pediatrician.
Dr. Sibley shared that 90% of children’s illnesses are caused by respiratory viruses, mostly colds. We typically think that when our little ones get the sniffles it is an allergy, but last spring when all the kids were outside playing and keeping a social distance from others, they didn’t get sick!
“We usually think it’s allergies when kids get the sniffles, but last spring (2020) they were all outside playing and they didn’t get sick! We would go two to three days with no kids being admitted to emergency rooms, no admissions for broken arms or twisted. Children were healthy. It was awesome for public health, terrible for pediatricians!
Then in April 2021, schools and daycares were reopened, the COVID vaccines rolled out, and in May, June, and July, a wave of sick children began showing up, much sicker than pediatricians across the U. S. had ever seen. While virtually no children got COVID in 2020, by the second week of July 2021, children started getting really sick with COVID, presenting with coughs and runny noses.
The 12 to 18 year old group seem to have been hit the hardest, and almost everyone that Dr. Sibley tests in that age group have been positive for COVID. Most are not sick enough to be hospitalized but they have to quarantine and they suffer. Infants and children up to age ten or eleven have not been hit as hard with COVID at this point in time.
Previously only a handful of children had been hospitalized, but in the past few weeks, 50 to 60 children per day have been admitted to pediatric hospitals. While there have been a few deaths, most children do get better and get to go home. The Delta variant of COVID has changed all of the expectations as to who will get sick.
“This is no longer a benign process for children. The COVID vaccine is not yet available to children under twelve years of age. Testing is ongoing and we anticipate vaccine approval for children sometime this school year. The reality is this Delta variant is more contagious and more severe. Children are dying. Hospitals are at a breaking point with staff, personnel, bed space.
The mask mandate has been controversial and Dr. Sibley harkened back to the last major pandemic experienced worldwide: “Last time we had a pandemic, the Spanish Flu in 1918, people got past the crisis by wearing masks. They figured it out. Germs weren’t shared and people moved on. They got better.” He believes it is important for the health and safety of our children and school administrators that everyone remain masked since the children can’t be vaccinated yet.
The COVID mask mandate has seemingly been of great help to the outbreak of flu. In a typical flu season, there are millions of cases of flu and thousands of people die. In the 2020-21 flu season, there were less than 5,000 cases in the U. S., an unheard-of occurrence. There were fewer cases than any season on record. The flu vanished. Mask-wearing and hand-washing measures seemed to have kept the flu away.
When we spoke of people’s concerns about their personal freedoms being taken away by the mask mandates and other measures, Dr. Sibley mentioned his pediatric colleague, Dr. Jonathan Hislop of North Vancouver, who summed up the issue succinctly: “If you go hiking and the public park is closed due to forest fires, you can’t go in because of public safety issues. This mask mandate is no different.”
Herd immunity can be reached if 75 to 80% of our population is vaccinated against COVID. The remaining people who are not vaccinated, either because they don’t want to or are unable to take the vaccine, will then be protected. This is a tough hill to climb because of the high number of people refusing to get vaccinated. “Of the 12 to 18-year-old contingent, only 19% have been vaccinated. In the adult population, perhaps only 50% have been vaccinated at this point in time.”
“We take for granted our access to healthcare. Right now, that doesn’t exist. There aren’t enough beds for people getting in car wrecks or breaking legs. 90% of the people in the beds with COVID have not been vaccinated. There are patients who are dying because they can’t get a bed somewhere. The system is overwhelmed. The solution is for people to get vaccinated.”
In closing, Dr. Sibley spoke of how to keep your kids healthy in the best of times. Good advice for all us to heed:
- Have your children inoculated with all recommended vaccines such as measles, mumps, rubella, etc. Smallpox has been all but eradicated because of vaccines. The vaccines are safe, despite what you may read on social media and they are proven to be effective.
- Protect your children from their environment to the best of your ability. The #1 risk to a child is an accident, whether it is falling, being burned, pulling things on their head, ingesting foreign objects, choking, falling off things, or drowning. For boys, even more so. Toddlers, as well as teenagers, take risks they may not take later in life when they know better.
- Follow your doctor’s advice for your child.
- Stay out of the emergency room, during COVID and otherwise, unless absolutely necessary. Why walk into an environment that can make you sicker than when you entered? People think a fever is a threat to life when it is not necessarily so. The ER is there for emergencies. Ask yourself: Is this a threat to life or limb? Many people walk into the ER to get a COVID test which they can easily get it at an urgent care center or pharmacy.
We thank Dr. Bryan Sibley for the dedicated and top-notch medical care he provides to our youngest and most vulnerable. Please stay safe and follow your doctor’s guidelines as well as that of the CDC so that we can all move forward and get past this pandemic.