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Pediatric Perspectives: Hugging to be allowed again

David Brooks, Valley View HospitalBy David Brooks, MD, Pediatric Partners at Valley View

“Hugging to be allowed in England” was a recent headline announcing the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK. Really….Hugging?  I could have never imagined I would be discussing hugging as an activity that was not only restricted but had to get approval to be restarted. It certainly has been a long and hard year.

Now, I do not want to discuss the overall management of COVID-19 and whether hugging should have or should not have been restricted. The topic is too big and complicated. Some will argue and say governments and public health agencies overreacted and some will argue they underreacted. I do not know the answer to that question and I do not think anybody ever will.

What I do want to discuss is if you should get your adolescent (12-17 years old) vaccinated? And, the answer to that is a resounding unequivocal YES!

COVID-19 has been terrible for the health of our adolescents. It has had an enormous impact on their well-being. No matter your age, COVID-19 is a bad disease. We are all familiar with the enormous number of people that have died in the United States but did you know over 600 of those deaths were children? This is approximately three times the number of childhood deaths we saw in the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza season. It has infected over 1.5 million adolescents ages 12-17 and caused over 13,000 hospitalizations in that same group. COVID-19 is now in the top ten causes of death in children annually.

Additionally, COVID-19 is not simply an acute self-limited illness. For many, acute COVID-19 will evolve into a chronic condition with lingering symptoms such as chronic fatigue, fast heart rate, persistent cough, shortness of breath, concentration problems and exercise intolerance. This “long hauler” syndrome is now called “post-acute COVID-19” and likely will be a new condition that affects the long-term health of adolescents.

In addition, COVID-19 has had a unique impact on children with a syndrome called MIS-C. MIS-C stands for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. This is a severe hyperinflammatory syndrome occurring 2-6 weeks after acute COVID-19 and causes a wide range of manifestations and complications across all organ systems. Sixty to seventy percent of cases require intensive care and one to two percent die. To date, there have been over 3,200 cases nationally in children and adolescents; adolescents tend to have more severe cases. Not only that but 75% of MIS-C cases follow a completely asymptomatic primary infection and, as such, even when COVID-19 is thought to cause no symptoms, it can have a devastating impact later.

COVID-19 is certainly not something you want your adolescent to have. Fortunately, we have a very effective and safe solution in vaccination. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been shown to be around 94% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in adults and, in a recent CDC analysis, it was 100% effective in the 12-15 year age group. New information has also shown this vaccine to be effective even for new, more infectious forms of COVID-19 called variants.

As far as safety, the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine in 12-15 year-olds is very safe. In the scientific study supporting the approval of the vaccine, many recipients experienced local pain at the injection site and a few experienced fever, headache and fatigue. These are the same type of reactions we know and expect with other childhood vaccines, and are easily managed with over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is now readily available at hospitals, public health departments, local pharmacies and pediatric offices. Vaccinations have kept our children safe from horrible illnesses and this Pfizer vaccination is simply another shot to keep our kids safe.

COVID-19 has been hard on our community and hard on our kids. Children have suffered directly with COVID-19 but they have also suffered indirectly. They have missed school, they have missed sports, they have missed friends but most importantly, they have missed hugs. It is time we started hugging again. Please get your child vaccinated.

David Brooks, MD is a board-certified pediatrician at Valley View’s Pediatric Partners. A native of Denver, Colorado, he has a special interest in the beautiful outdoors where he is an avid runner and enjoys watching a good game of Denver Broncos football. On a professional level, he strives to ensure that healthcare is patient-centered and takes seriously the responsibility to treat the children in our community with excellence. He received his medical degree from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and also completed his pediatric residency training in Charlotte, North Carolina where he met his best friend and wife, Dr. Ellen. He is also the Chief Medical Officer at Valley View. He is currently welcoming new patients of all ages, birth to 18, in Glenwood Springs, Silt and Willits in Basalt.

To learn more or schedule an appointment, call 970.947.9999.