ST. LOUIS — As schools and families look ahead to another school year, the pandemic continues in the St. Louis region.
Adding to the usual back-to-school concerns is a summer surge that’s infecting and sending more young people to the hospital.
"We have more children in the hospital now than we had during the surge in the wintertime,” said Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University infectious disease specialist Dr. Jason Newland.
This weekend the Biden Administration begins a push to get young people vaccinated as the summer ends; that means urging doctors to bring up COVID-19 shots during back to school physicals, and encouraging schools to host vaccination events.
“We're committed to doing everything we can to ensure that we get kids back into the classrooms safely,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Thursday.
But children under 12 still can't get vaccinated. Trials for that age group began in the spring with both Pfizer and Moderna doses. The FDA is not expected to be able to approve the shots until late fall at the earliest, well after the school year begins.
“There is no question we're going to see outbreaks in schools with this delta variant," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy. "The question is how many and how big will they get.”
To keep those outbreaks small and children in the classroom, doctors continue to recommend children wear masks, distance when appropriate and wash their hands often. They also urge those around children to get the shot.
“If we can vaccinate the people around our younger children who can't get vaccinated you're going to kind of put a cocoon around them, even more so,” said Dr. Newland.
While children's COVID-19 cases are still usually less severe, more than 500 have died from the virus nationwide. Even among those who don't have to go to the hospital, Doctor Newland says they're seeing an increase in “long-haul” cases among children, too.
Since the data-collection and research phase for children under 12 is longer, it's expected the shot will move from an emergency use authorization to full FDA approval rather quickly, something many adults are still waiting on.