Rising COVID-19 hospitalizations in kids 'eye-opening and a little bit scary,' says Sask. pediatrician
3 kids under 12 with the virus have died in Sask. since pandemic began: Dr. Ayisha Kurji
A Saskatoon pediatrician doesn't want people to lose sight of the impact COVID-19 is having on children.
Data presented at last week's Saskatchewan Health Authority physician town hall confirmed there were 17 kids in the province hospitalized with the virus — the most since the start of the pandemic.
"It was just a little bit eye-opening and a little bit scary," Dr. Ayisha Kurji said in an interview on Saskatoon Morning Monday.
"It tells me that it's important to keep track of this."
Most of the time, she said, COVID-19 behaves like other respiratory viruses, meaning hospitalized kids may need support from oxygen or IV fluids. However, some need to be under intensive care to assist their breathing.
Kurji noted that three kids under 12 with COVID-19 have died in the province. Those deaths are reflected in the 19 and under age category on the province's website.
"My thoughts are with those families. It's just devastating to lose a child, ever, from anything," she said.
Toddlers, teens among highest risk groups
Kurji noted the highest risk group are those ages zero to four, followed by teenagers aged 12 to 17. Kids five to 11 tend to fare better with the illness, she said.
"Babies are prone to end up in the hospital with a respiratory illness," Kurji added. "They're just little and don't tolerate being sick as well as the older kids do."
She said it's especially concerning when teenagers contract COVID-19, because the virus acts similar to the way it does in adults.
"Throughout the pandemic, we've kind of said, 'Oh, kids are fine, kids are fine. They don't do badly with COVID' — which is true — but as our numbers go up, more kids are going to be affected," she said.
Community transmission leading to most infections in kids
Since school started this fall, COVID-19 numbers have gone up in children, Kurji pointed out.
She said about 16 per cent of cases in kids last year stemmed from school transmission. This year, that number sits around 23 per cent.
Still, Kurji said, the "vast majority" of children are contracting the virus at home or in community settings, such as extracurricular activities.
"The real way to protect our kids is to focus on the community level," she said. "Getting our cases down overall across the province is the biggest way we're going to have an impact on the kids and the numbers in kids."
Similar thoughts were echoed last week by Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer.
"While the illness is mild, we want to minimize COVID exposure in children," he said in a teleconference briefing last Wednesday.
Shahab also noted that one-third of the province's cases are among school-aged kids.
Both Kurji and Shahab emphasized that the most important thing adults can do to keep children safe is to get vaccinated and make sure everyone else around them who is eligible has their shots as well.
It is also important to follow public health guidelines, such as wearing a mask and physically distancing, the doctors said.
Top doctor hoping kids can receive vaccinations by December
As the province waits on the federal government to approve a lower-dose COVID-19 vaccination for children, Shahab said he's hopeful those immunizations can begin later this year.
"We are looking forward in anticipation that a vaccine for five- to 11-year-olds will be approved by Health Canada by November," he said, adding that if all goes well shots could be available to kids in Saskatchewan by December.
"As soon as it comes, we will be ready to administer it. There should be no lag there."
Marlo Pritchard, president of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) and head of the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre, agreed.
"We are actively working on when [children's vaccines] will be approved and what that will look like in the province," he said at last Wednesday's teleconference.
Pritchard said the SPSA is in talks with the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority to come up with a rollout plan in advance of the vaccine approval.
Earlier this month, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech submitted preliminary data to Health Canada from their trial for a COVID-19 shot for kids.
If approved, it would be the first COVID-19 vaccine deemed safe for children to receive.
With files from Saskatoon Morning
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