A sudden surge in COVID cases among children and teens below 18 years of age in Odisha has started to worry health professionals in the state.
According to data uploaded by the state government, Odisha reported 539 COVID cases in the last 24 hours, 77 of which were in the below 18 age-group.
“We saw a rise in cases among people under 45 years of age when vaccination was not available for them. The second wave of COVID-19 largely affected them. And now, with this group getting vaccinated, we expected that the number of cases would go up among kids who are not yet jabbed,” said Dr. Swarupa Panda, Associate Professor at SCB Medical College and Hospital, and a paediatric specialist.
Dr. Panda said the spike among children would increase in the coming days, but the good thing is that the recovery rate among kids is good, and they are getting well without any complications as they do not have health issues like diabetes and hypertension.
However, physician and noted epidemiologist Chandrakant Lahariya said the interpretation of data was incorrect, and “the context is incorrect”.
“We already know by serosurvey that around 60 per cent of children had infections earlier, even when they were not going out. Now, with many states reopening schools and other places for kids, the states are being proactive in testing children, and due to the rise in testing, a surge in infections is being noted,” Dr. Lahariya said.
Dr. Lahariya also said that COVID-19 infection among kids is similar to that of adults, and this sudden spike in cases is certainly due to the increase in testing among adolescents under 18 years. “The concern is not the rise in cases among kids, but the mortality in COVID-19 is a concern, which is low among children and remains unchanged,” he added.
Also read: COVID spike among Odisha’s children despite fall in total cases
Trials for COVID-19 vaccination for kids in the age group of 12-17 years are in the final phase, with indigenously developed Zydus Cadila’s needle-free vaccine ZyCOV-D receiving Emergency Use Authorization for kids from Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). ZyCOV-D is expected to be given to children from next month.
Talking about administering COVID-19 vaccines to kids, Dr. Panda said, “We don’t have a huge population in the age group of 12-17 years, so it will take less time to vaccinate them than the adult population.”
The doctor added that vaccinating schoolchildren would be easy, as the drive can be done school-wise. “Of course, everyone in the school group would be studying in some or the other school, and hence it will be easier to target,” Dr. Panda said, adding that it would be faster for health officials to just visit different schools and vaccinate children, than go through the whole online registration process.
Commenting on vaccination, Dr. Lahariya said, “Currently, there is no scientific rationale or benefit in vaccinating children younger than 12 years. I personally don’t think children younger than 12 should be vaccinated before early 2022 or even later.”
Dr. Lahariya pointed out that such children need not be vaccinated because “the benefit of vaccinating them is far lower” and the priority of vaccination should be for adult population. “Within 12-17 years, all children shouldn’t be vaccinated. According to current scientific research, only those kids should be vaccinated who are at high-risk or who have underlying illness,” he added.
Apart from Zydus, DCGI has granted Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covovax and Biological E.’s indigenously developed vaccines permission for trials on children in the age group of 12-17 years.
Also read: J&J applies for vaccine trials for children in 12-17 age group
The sudden surge in COVID-19 cases among kids is believed to be the onset of the third wave of the pandemic by some experts, while others say there is no data to prove the same. Major paediatric hospitals in the state, including Shishu Bhawan, are gearing up to accommodate any sudden spike in infections.
“According to epidemiologists’ predictions, we are expecting the third wave by October-end. We are prepared for it. Shishu Bhawan’s ICU beds have been increased; it was initially expanded by 50 beds, but it will go up to 100 beds, if needed,” Dr. Panda said.
Dr. Panda also said that SCB is conducting an educational program, in collaboration with Shishu Bhawan, for all nurses, doctors, and paramedics for better paediatric management from July. “We are discussing the protocol of training them. We have already completed four phases and will complete one more phase,” she added, saying that if COVID cases spike suddenly, like they did in the second wave, then things would get out of hand. But as of now, the preparations are “okay”.
Odisha’s School and Mass Education Department has allowed offline classes for Classes IX, X, and XII, with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols. The students can opt for either online or offline mode of study, after consulting their parents, and attendance is not mandatory in the offline mode.
On September 1, School and Mass Education Minister Samir Ranjan Dash said in the state Assembly – in response to MLA Soumya Ranjan Patnaik – that 26 districts in Odisha had recorded more than 60 per cent turnout of Class X students, while 28 districts recorded over 50 per cent attendance of Class IX students.
Responding to this decision by the government to start offline classes, Dr. Panda said: “Children are facing issues like eyesight trouble, depression, and other mental health problems as they are staring at phone screens constantly since the last year. We were initially thinking that COVID would go away soon, but epidemiologists are now saying it is going to become endemic. If it doesn’t go away, can we be locked forever? We need to gradually open things up and the government is taking that step.”
Speaking on the same issue, Dr. Lahariya pointed out that children should be allowed to go to school immediately, because they are not at risk of severe disease. “The risk of moderate to severe disease in children is lowest, they do get the infection but they don’t get the disease. Schools don’t pose additional risk, and vaccination is not the prerequisite to open schools,” the doctor explained.
Also read: Ready reckoner: TN, MP, Delhi open schools. Which states have not?
Ashmita Behera, a student of Class XII, spoke her views on reopening of schools. According to her, “it is not a wise decision as the kids are not yet vaccinated.”
But Behera also said that online classes are exhausting. “In order to successfully participate in an online programme, students must be well-organised, self-motivated, and possess a high degree of time management skills in order to keep up with the pace of the course,” she added.
Behera also said that online classes increase stress and anxiety, especially among students of Classes IX and XII, “as they need to keep up with the competition”.
“When we have in-person interactions, there are a number of non-verbal cues our brains process. But a day full of video interactions is draining because our brains are unable to process information the way they are accustomed to. It leads to fatigue,” she added.
Lopamudra Hotta, mother of a primary school student, echoed her views. “Online classes are very tiring for my daughter. She has been facing eyesight issues for the past few months. It has been difficult for her to attend classes in the house due to various disturbances. Though I understand it is risky, the atmosphere at school is perfect, especially for kids under 12 years, who get disturbed easily at home,” she said.
Apart from Odisha, other states, including Delhi and Karnataka, are also witnessing a spike in COVID-19 cases among kids. And if this was not enough, another “mystery fever” has been taking the lives of kids in Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad district and Haryana’s Palwal district.A sudden surge in COVID cases among children and teens below 18 years of age in Odisha has started to worry health professionals in the state.