Our guest is Dr. Bryan Sibley, a well-known pediatrician in Lafayette who has devoted his professional life to caring for our youngest.
We asked Bryan to join us in discussing how the Delta variant of COVID has evolved to affect children in ways the first wave of coronavirus never did.
It’s been a tough year and a half for all of us, including pediatricians. In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, children kept their distance from each other, were out of school and played in their schoolyard, and stopped participating in organized sports and activities. They stayed at home and played in the backyard. For the first time in years, they didn’t get sick, didn’t break bones, didn’t get viruses. Whole days passed without children being hospitalized or taking their parents to the pediatrician.
dr. Sibley said 90% of childhood viruses are caused by respiratory viruses, most commonly the common cold. We usually think that when our little ones snort it’s an allergy, but last spring when all the kids were playing outside and keeping a social distance from others, they didn’t get sick!
“We usually think it’s allergies when kids snort, but last spring (2020) they were all playing outside and didn’t get sick! We would go two to three days with no children admitted to the emergency room, no admissions for broken arms or twisting. Children were healthy. It was great for public health, terrible for pediatricians!
Then, in April 2021, schools and daycare centers were reopened, COVID vaccines were rolled out, and in May, June and July, a wave of sick children began to emerge, far sicker than pediatricians in the US had ever seen. While virtually no children got COVID in 2021, children really started getting sick with COVID in the second week of July 2021, with coughing and runny noses.
The 12-18 age group seems to be the hardest hit, and almost everyone who sees Dr. Sibley, in that age group, tested positive for COVID. Most are not sick enough to be hospitalized, but they are quarantined and suffering. Infants and children up to the age of 10 or 11 have not been hit as hard by COVID at the moment.
Previously, only a handful of children were hospitalized, but in recent weeks, 50 to 60 children a day have been admitted to children’s hospitals. Although there have been a few deaths, most of the children are getting better and are allowed to go home. The Delta variant of COVID has changed all expectations about who will get sick.
“This is no longer a benign process for children. The COVID vaccine is not yet available for children under the age of 12. Testing is underway and we expect the vaccine to be approved for children sometime this school year. The reality is that this Delta variant is more contagious and more serious. Children die. Hospitals are at a breaking point with staff, staff, bed space.
The mask mandate was controversial and Dr. Sibley harked back to the last major pandemic experienced worldwide: “The last time we had a pandemic, the Spanish flu in 1918, people got out of the crisis by wearing masks. They found out. Germs were not shared and people moved on. They have gotten better.” He believes it is important for the health and safety of our children and school administrators that everyone remains masked as the children cannot be vaccinated yet.
The mandate of the COVID mask seems to have been of great help in the flu outbreak. In a typical flu season, there are millions of flu cases and thousands of people die. In the 2020-21 flu season, there were fewer than 5,000 cases in the US, an unprecedented event. There were fewer cases than any season. The flu disappeared. Wearing masks and washing hands seemed to keep the flu away.
Speaking about people’s concerns about their personal freedoms being taken away by the mask mandates and other measures, Dr. Sibley’s pediatric colleague, Dr. Jonathan Hislop of North Vancouver, who succinctly summed up the matter: “If you go for a walk and the public park is closed because of wildfires, you can’t go in because of public safety. This mask mandate is no different.”
Herd immunity can be achieved if 75 to 80% of our population is vaccinated against COVID. The other people who have not been vaccinated, because they do not want or cannot receive the vaccine, are then protected. This is a tough hill to climb due to the sheer number of people refusing to be vaccinated. “Only 19% of the 12- to 18-year-old contingent has been vaccinated. Perhaps only 50% of the adult population is currently vaccinated.”
“We take our access to healthcare for granted. At the moment that doesn’t exist. There are not enough beds for people who end up in car wrecks or break their legs. 90% of people in the beds with COVID are not vaccinated. There are patients who die because they have nowhere to get a bed. The system is overwhelmed. The solution is for people to get vaccinated.”
Finally, Dr. Sibley on how to keep your kids healthy in the best of times. Good advice for all of us to take to heart:
Have your children vaccinated with all recommended vaccines such as measles, mumps, rubella, etc. Smallpox is almost eradicated thanks to vaccines. The vaccines are safe, despite what you may read on social media, and have been proven to be effective. Protect your children as much as possible from their environment. The greatest risk to a child is an accident, be it falling, getting burned, pulling things on their head, swallowing foreign objects, choking, falling off things or drowning. Even more so for boys. Toddlers, as well as teens, take risks that they may not take later in life if 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 would you walk into an environment that could make you even sicker than when you entered? People think that fever is a threat to life, when it is not necessarily so. The first aid is there for emergencies. Ask yourself: is this a threat to life or limb? Many people walk into the emergency room to get a COVID test that they can easily get from an emergency room or pharmacy.
We thank Dr. Bryan Sibley for the dedicated and first-class medical care he provides to our youngest and most vulnerable. Please stay safe and follow your doctor’s guidelines and those of the CDC so we can all move forward and overcome this pandemic.