OVER the past two weeks, a worrying trend has been the hospitalisation of children who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Now that we are about 16 months into this deadly pandemic, past 500 local deaths, I thought nothing else would surprise me, but the thought of children in the hospital has scared me all over again.
In the earlier months of the pandemic, up until about October last year, research showed that older folk and those individuals with comorbidities (other underlying conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma) were more susceptible to the severe and more life-threatening effects of COVID-19.
Then, from October to about April this year, there was growing epidemiological information to suggest that younger people, particularly those with comorbidities (though many relatively younger people are unaware of their underlying conditions) were becoming vulnerable to the severe effects of COVID-19. Locally, for example, a trend was found among relatively younger men
Head of Medical Services at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), Dr. Mahendra Carpen, told the Guyana Chronicle in October last year that this points to the prevalence of underlying and perhaps even largely undetected health issues in younger adults and, younger men, specifically. These include non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, heart diseases, and cancers, which, according to the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) accounted for about 70 per cent of deaths in Guyana.
This concern of the coronavirus and the disease COVID-19 affecting more and more young people as opposed to the older folk, who have been seen as the vulnerable population, was solidified with the global emergence of variants of concerns. These variants were more transmissible (meaning, more easily spread from person to person) and more infectious, thereby attacking the younger demographics.
Throughout the pandemic thus far, no specific age group was spared from infections. At all times, all age groups were vulnerable to becoming infected with the virus. The more severe and life-threatening symptoms associated with COVID-19, however, were experienced by the demographics I mentioned.
This meant that elderly folk and people with comorbidities (both older and relatively young) could have been hospitalised or worse yet, could have been placed into the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit (ICU)- that treats the worst affected, including those who have difficulties breathing on their own. And all the while, other age groups– such as children and younger people (especially those without comorbidities) — could have been infected with the coronavirus, but could have been asymptomatic (showing no symptoms).
Now, it is with great concern that I read about more and more children becoming severely ill and, resultantly, hospitalised, instead of simply being infected. The first announcement of this nature was made at the beginning of July by the Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony.
Understandably, this raised several concerns. I mean, for me, the thought of children, CHILDREN, in an ICU breathing through a tube down their throats is an image I cannot get out of my head. I do not necessarily agree with assertions that the Ministry of Health has not been forthcoming with information on infections in children. I have reported on pupils and students in schools and at dormitories testing positive. Perhaps, it did not register that “STUDENTS are infected with COVID-19” automatically meant that “CHILDREN are infected with COVID-19.” Still, it is unsettling that children are being hospitalised.
After that initial announcement was made, the Health Ministry, in a press statement, said that the children had comorbidities. Last week, when the Health Minister said that two children were discharged after recovering, but another two were admitted, he noted that the children also had comorbidities.
Now, what is causing the coronavirus to now affect children in this manner? Dr. Anthony said that from the epidemiological information available — albeit in the absence of genetic analysis — a more infectious form of the coronavirus is circulating and it would appear as though this is infecting the children. Contextually, it is not uncommon for viruses to change and mutate into these more infectious strains, since every time the virus is transmitted from person to person, it can undergo changes.
Now children, unlike adults, cannot receive any of the vaccines used locally (the AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, and Sinopharm vaccines) since they are not approved for juvenile use. The US-made Pfizer is being used in children and if the country manages to secure doses of that vaccine, President Dr. Irfaan Ali has already stated that it will go to the children. That means that the only protective mechanisms currently available to children are face masks, social distancing, and their parents/ guardians getting vaccinated. And, parents of children with comorbidities such as asthma, for example, should be very keen on adhering to these protective measures.
Cognisant of this emerging concern, I can do nothing else but plead that extra consideration be given to keeping children safe. There is not much else that we can do, except to keep them safe by ensuring that we all adhere to the COVID-19 measures.
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