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'We have to start with vaccination': Pediatric doctors push for COVID vaccines as cases in children increase

Dr. Jason Newland said the best way to keep children safe is to get them vaccinated, get the people around them vaccinated and keep up mitigation efforts.

ST. LOUIS — There have been more COVID-positive pediatric patients in St. Louis area hospitals in the last week than at any other point in the pandemic, and some children are sick enough to end up in the ICU.

Dr. Rachel Charney with Cardinal Glennon and Dr. Jason Newland with Washington University and St. Louis Children's Hospital joined the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force briefing Tuesday to talk about how the omicron variant is affecting the area's youngest patients. Dr. Charney said while some of the children are being treated for other ailments in addition to COVID, the number of children needing treatment for COVID is much higher than before.

"All of them are requiring increased resources from an overwhelmed health care system," Dr. Charney said.

Credit: St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force
A graphic from the task force showing how many children are in the hospital and in the ICU.

Dr. Charney said the number of pediatric patients isn't the only thing that has changed with the omicron variant. While they are still seeing patients with upper-respiratory symptoms like a cough and a sore throat, some COVID patients are only experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. She said that means parents should be on high alert when their child is not feeling well.

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"We're seeing a wide variety of symptoms, which for us says that our parents out in the community need to be aware that any type of illness that their child is experiencing right now could be COVID at this time," she said. "And we encourage you to both keep your kids home from school and other activities, as well as to get them tested as soon as possible."

Dr. Newland said they are seeing similar symptoms at St. Louis Children's Hospital, and they are also seeing some delayed effects for children who did not experience severe symptoms. He said they are seeing children become severely ill with multisystem inflammatory syndrome weeks after getting COVID.

MIS causes swelling or inflammation in different organs like the heart, lungs, brain or stomach.

"A lot of words that really equal to a very, very severe illness that occurs in normal, healthy children that get COVID about four to six weeks later, this illness can land this child in the intensive care unit," he said.

Dr. Newland said one thing most of the children that experience serious COVID symptoms or multisystem inflammatory syndrome is that they are unvaccinated. He said the best way to keep children safe is to get them vaccinated, get the people around them vaccinated and keep up mitigation efforts like masking and staying home when you are sick.

"I know some parents are out there thinking, 'OK, maybe I'll wait and have them get their 5-year-old shots and then get COVID [shots],' but I would really urge everyone if you're not vaccinated and your children aren't vaccinated to have them vaccinated," Dr. Newland said.

Hospitals in St. Louis

As for adults in area hospitals, the task force reported a record number of COVID-positive patients for the eighth consecutive day Tuesday. 

Dr. Alex Garza, one of the leaders of the task force, said lagging indicators are starting to trend up as well. COVID-positive patients in the ICU and on ventilators are at their highest point since vaccines became widely available, and the task force reported 22 COVID deaths on Tuesday.

"As we have said in the past, mortality is a lagging indicator, so we expect to see some of those high numbers for weeks to come," Dr. Garza said.

Dr. Garza said the continued increase in cases and hospitalizations in the region was a "sadly predictable" outcome.

"Now we knew that the combination of fewer mitigation measures, together with a highly contagious variant would cause this virus to really run wild," he said. "And unfortunately, that's exactly what's happening."

Dr. Clay Dunagan repeated what leaders have said in previous weeks: they think the worst is yet to come. He also said the community still has the ability to stem the tide.

"We also want to continue to thank those who are doing everything they should. So those who are vaccinated and boosted, thank you very much. Those are wearing masks in public and refraining from large gatherings, you're helping in a very important way to keep this from being even worse," he said.

The data for January 11, 2022

  • New hospital admissions (data lagged two days) increased – from 180 Monday to 194 Tuesday.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospital admissions (data lagged two days) increased – from 205 Monday to 208 Tuesday. *New seven-day moving average record
  • The seven-day moving average of hospitalizations increased – from 1193 Monday to 1239 Tuesday. *New seven-day moving average record
  • Inpatient confirmed COVID positive hospitalizations increased – from 1340 Monday to 1348 Tuesday. *New daily hospitalization record
  • Inpatient suspected COVID positive hospitalizations increased – from 47 Monday to 48 Tuesday.
  • The number of confirmed COVID-positive patients in the ICU remained the same at 216 Tuesday.
  • The number of confirmed COVID-positive patients on ventilators remained the same at 138 Tuesday.
  • 22 COVID deaths are being reported Tuesday.
  • The seven-day moving average of COVID deaths increased, from 15 Monday to 16 Tuesday.
  • Across the system hospitals, 226 patients were discharged Monday bringing the cumulative number of COVID-19 patients discharged to 34,714.
  • Of the 1,299 hospitalized COVID patients in the three reporting Task Force hospital systems Tuesday – 417 are fully vaccinated. That’s 32% of the patient population.
  • There are 29 COVID-positive children who are 0-11 years of age in Task Force hospitals.
  • There are 27 COVID-positive children who are 12-18 years of age in Task Force hospitals.
  • There are 10 COVID-positive children who are 0-11 years of age and in the ICU.
  • There are 3 COVID-positive children who are 12-18 years of age and in the ICU.
  • Tuesday’s staffed bed hospital capacity is at 90% an average across our task force hospitals. The ICUs are at 81% of their total staffed bed capacity.