As the elected officers of the South Carolina Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (SCAAP), we are writing to express our concerns for children as the pandemic continues. Representing more than 750 pediatricians statewide, we stand united with our AAP colleagues (over 67,000) nationally to speak out on behalf of the health, safety and well-being of the children and families under our care and advocacy umbrella. We take our oath of service seriously and will always “educate, advocate and agitate” for children.
Our current concerns are threefold.
There seems to be a complacency developing that children are safe from the ill effects of the COVID-19 virus. Let’s be clear — they tend to suffer fewer ill effects than adults but recent data shows that children are making up a growing share of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., accounting for nearly 21%.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 3.63 million children have tested positive, making up about 13.6% of all cases. Children can still suffer severe consequences and even death, and we all worry about the long-term unforeseen consequences for childhood infections and long-term health.
They deserve our protection now.
Since children are not currently eligible for the vaccine (ages 12-15 were just approved for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine), they will continue to spread the virus (and its more infectious variants) unless the adult population establishes herd immunity with overwhelming immunization. To get all children safely back in school, athletics, summer camps, and the vital social activities they need, it is now up to the adults to get vaccinated and stop the spread.
Vaccine hesitancy is a serious concern to us and our colleagues. Although the COVID-19 vaccine was developed quickly, its development was based on decades of science and research. So, its rapid speed to market and into arms in no way reflects a disregard for safety. The vaccine has proven to be safe, and appropriate precautions are being taken given some recent concerns. If we want to take care of the medical and social needs of our children, vaccine hesitancy needs to be replaced with vaccine urgency.
A movement is afoot to discourage the wearing of masks while we are still in the midst of the pandemic, have not yet achieved sufficient immunization levels, and in spite of clear evidence that masks decrease the spread of the virus. We fear that this movement puts the health and well-being of children at increased jeopardy.
We still need to stop the respiratory spread until vaccine hesitancy is replaced by vaccine urgency and we have enough of the population protected. As health care professionals who wear masks all day at work and then again when we are out in public, we can attest to the ease of mask-wearing and sense of pride that comes with protecting others.
We think the health and safety of our children far outweighs the alleged affront to the civil liberties of others. Mask-wearing will be unnecessary in the not-too-distant future if we all act responsibly and continue to just wear the masks until public health officials give us the go-ahead.
Our children are our most precious resource and our most vulnerable citizens going forward. We must do everything we can to protect their health now to give them the best chance at a healthy tomorrow. It is the responsibility of all of us.
The elected officials of the South Carolina Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics are Robert Saul, MD – President; Elizabeth Mack, MD – Vice President; Martha Edwards, MD – Secretary-Treasurer; and Kerry Sease, MD – Immediate Past President.