(Trends Wide) — After weeks of a worrying rise in covid-19 across the US, infection rates are finally on the decline. However, experts say there is still work to be done before the tide turns, especially when cases remain exceptionally high among children.
“I am concerned that we still have difficult days ahead of us,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University. “Although we are doing reasonably well with vaccines, we have to do much better because the delta variant is very good at finding people who are not vaccinated and infecting them.”
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, about 105,054 new infections of covid-19 are registered every day. That number is about 12,000 less than the average of a week earlier, and experts wonder if that decline is a flow of cases or the beginning of the end for high counts.
“What is going to determine whether or not this is the end of this wave is really up to us,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, associate dean for Strategy and Innovation at Brown University School of Public Health.
What is needed is for more people to get vaccinated, as well as to wear masks in high-spread areas and for children to get vaccinated, he said.
Children under the age of 18 make up 22% of the American population, but account for 27% of all cases in the country, according to data released Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The risk of long-term covid in children
And while these cases are less likely to be severe or cause death, children can end up with long-term symptoms.
“I think we have underestimated the impact on children,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday. “Look at pediatric hospitals across the country … they’re seeing a lot of kids in the hospital with serious infections.”
Fauci has said the vast majority of Americans will need to get vaccinated to control the spread, but according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only 56 % of the population is fully vaccinated.
And Baylor College of Medicine dean of tropical medicine, Dr. Peter Hotez, said he remains concerned for the rest of the year. The colder months bring with them conditions that facilitate the spread of the virus, and the United States remains undervaccinated, he said.
“We still have a pretty rough road ahead for the rest of the year,” Hotez said.
Children could be vaccinated in early November, according to Ranney
The vaccines, which experts cite as the best protection against the virus, are only available to children from the age of 12. But health authorities hope that will change soon.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Friday that its vaccine advisers will meet Oct. 26 to discuss data from Pfizer’s vaccine trial among children from 5 to 11 years.
There are still some steps on the way for the vaccine to be licensed. FDA vaccine advisers would first have to make a recommendation, and then the agency would vote on it.
Next, the CDC would have to give its go-ahead before children ages 5 to 11 could begin getting vaccinated.
“Most members of the public health community expect vaccines to be approved for these younger age groups in early November,” Ranney said.
And once the vaccine is made available to the youngest children, it will be the parents who decide, which can be a roadblock.
Little acceptance among parents
Only about a third – 34% – of parents of children ages 5 to 11 say they will vaccinate their children as soon as the Covid-19 vaccine is available for that age group, according to results from the Vaccine Monitor of the Kaiser Family Foundation published Thursday.
Preteens and teens continue to have the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates of all age groups, according to the CDC. And Hotez told Trends Wide’s Wolf Blitzer that in the South only a third of 12 to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated.
“We have a lot to educate around these mRNA vaccines,” Hotez said.
A promising new antiviral
An antiviral drug promises to reduce the impact of infection, but experts caution that it is not a substitute for vaccines.
On Friday, the pharmaceutical company Merck said that molnupiravir, an investigational antiviral drug made by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, can cut the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 in half.
But the full data from the molnupiravir trial have not yet been published or reviewed. And it is unclear if or when the pill could be cleared by the FDA to fight covid-19.
“This pill is great, and as an ER doctor, I can’t wait to have it as one more tool in my toolbox to give to patients with Covid-19,” Ranney said. “But better than taking a pill is not getting sick in the first place, which means getting vaccinated.”
Trends Wide’s Jen Christensen, Holly Yan, Susannah Cullinane, Virginia Langmaid, Ben Tinker, Jacqueline Howard, and Mallory Simon contributed to this report.