What You Need to Know About Kids & the Delta Variant

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microscopic COVID-19 shapes made of clay; Kids & the Delta Variant

Parents or caregivers are probably hearing about the uptick in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant. It’s enough to cause worrying, fear, anxiety — and plenty of other non-pleasant feelings. Pediatrician Stephen Rinderknecht, DO, UnityPoint Health, gives answers to common questions about kids and the delta variant of COVID-19.

What is the Delta Variant?

The delta variant is a mutated strain of the COVID-19 virus, which was first identified in India in December of 2020. It’s the dominant variant circulating in the United States and has been identified in all 50 states.

Are Kids the Most Vulnerable to the Delta Variant?

Kids are the most vulnerable to the delta variant because they’re currently the least vaccinated part of the population. A recent study in the U.K. found children and adults under 50 were 2 ½ times more likely to become infected with the delta variant. That’s why it’s very important for everyone, especially those around children, to get the COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible.

Is the Delta Variant More Contagious in Kids?

The delta variant is still very new, so there are plenty of unknowns. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the delta variant is two times more contagious than earlier versions of the COVID-19 virus. It’s more contagious because people (adults and children) who are infected have a higher “viral load,” — meaning there are more virus particles in the airways of your respiratory tract. For example, anyone who sneezes or coughs will release more virus particles in the air than people who would have sneezed or coughed with the original COVID-19 virus.

What are the Symptoms of the Delta Variant in Kids?

The symptoms of the delta variant of COVID-19 are different than what we previously saw. The main symptoms in children and adults include:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose

While those symptoms have been associated with COVID-19, they’re much more prominent with the delta variant than the more iconic COVID-19 symptoms of fever, cough and loss of taste/smell. However, this change in primary symptoms may make it harder to recognize the virus and could delay diagnosis and isolation.

What if I’m Worried My Child Has the Delta Variant?

When to test a child continues to be a struggle and depends on the symptoms and COVID-19 activity in your community. Currently, the CDC recommends anyone with any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 get tested, regardless of vaccination status or prior infection. If you’re worried or not sure what to do, talk to your child’s doctor.

Can Children Develop Long-Term Symptoms from COVID-19?

Children have developed long-term symptoms from COVID-19 infection, even after a mild initial illness. There’s not enough research to tell if children have a lower or higher chance of long COVID as compared to adults.

Can the COVID-19 Vaccine Protect Children from the Delta Variant?

Currently, children 12-17 years of age can get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Studies show it’s very effective against the delta variant. In a recent study, the Pfizer vaccine was shown to be 88% effective at preventing symptomatic disease from the delta variant for all age groups.

It's expected the COVID-19 vaccine will be authorized and recommended for younger children by the end of the year.

Can Fully Vaccinated Children be able to Spread COVID-19?

The CDC has identified the spread of the COVID-19 virus by vaccinated people has increased, thanks to the delta variant. However, it’s still widely believed that vaccinated individuals are less at risk of spreading the virus, than the unvaccinated population. Since transmission is possible among vaccinated individuals, it’s important to consider all public health measures to keep everyone safe — especially during moderate or high virus spread. Keeping indoor events small, masking and plenty of handwashing are all way to help keep people safe.

What’s Your Advice to Keep Kids Safe from the Delta Variant?

My best advice for kids who can’t get vaccinated yet — wear a mask. I know we are all very tired of them, but it’s one of the best ways to protect ourselves and others. For kids 12 years old or older — get vaccinated. If you have kids or are around kids daily, get vaccinated to keep them safe. Everyone is eventually going to get the COVID-19 virus or the vaccine — one or the other. We know the virus can cause significant long-term symptoms in both children and adults after the illness, and it has killed hundreds of thousands of people in this country. We know the vaccines are safe with no long-term side effects. The decision is up to you, but I think the choice is a very easy one.