JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Health experts say the nation is on track to ring in yet another new year with COVID-19. During a question and answer session, Tennessee doctors addressed the state of the pandemic and how it’s affecting children.

News Channel 11 hosted a virtual Q&A session with a panel of experts Tuesday night to discuss how kids are impacted by COVID-19 as omicron cases surge across the country.

Dr. Buddy Creech from Vanderbilt Health’s Vaccine Research Program helped develop the Moderna vaccine through his research. Tuesday, he joined Ballad Health doctors in discussing pediatric cases, as well as the omicron variant.

“This variant is quickly taking over the globe,” Creech said. “We know is that in vaccinated individuals, it looks like it’s carrying a mild clinical course.”

His urge, along with the other panelists, was that anyone who is eligible, get vaccinated to protect themselves from COVID-19.

“The challenge is we know that among those who are unvaccinated. This omicron variant is causing every bit of severe diseases we’ve seen with other variants of COVID,” Creech said.

The purpose of the Q&A session was to discuss COVID-19 in pediatric cases – as a leading expert in the field, Dr. Creech said early on in the pandemic it was a “silver lining” that kids didn’t get sick. Now, pediatric cases seem to be becoming more frequent and more severe.

“The frequency of heart inflammation, even after very mildly symptomatic COVID is far higher than we see with other viruses,” he said.

“This isn’t going to be our last COVID ‘variant of concern,’ we know they’re going to keep continuing. I don’t know what’s going to happen when we finish out the Greek alphabet and we come back around, but what I do know is that the vaccines that we’ve created so far for COVID work well against omicron,” Creech said.

Creech was not alone in his yearning for parents to consult with their pediatricians about getting their kids vaccinated.

As a parent herself, Johnson City Medical Center Nurse Manager Amber Wagner sometimes works with pediatric COVID patients at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

“Every time I went over there, the only thing I could think is please don’t let this be me. Please don’t let my kids be here,” she said.

Wagner said the first opportunity she got, she took her 9 and 10-year-old to get their COVID-19 vaccines.

“It was a day that I had waited for for so long, and my kids were excited. They wanted to get it because they felt like we had talked about ‘you’re going to be doing your part too in this,’ because they’re kids, they asked me ‘Mommy, when can I not wear a mask anymore? When can I go to Just Jump?’ because we haven’t done any of those things because I’ve sheltered them so much to try to protect them. Because I don’t want to be the mom of a child who was in Niswonger,” she said.

Dr. Heather Champney told News Channel 11 Tuesday that all of the pediatric COVID patients they’ve seen at Ballad have been unvaccinated.

“I have not seen any poor outcomes from vaccines. I’ve seen tons of poor outcomes from viruses COVID included, that we can prevent or at least mitigate,” Champney said.

For the frontline workers on the virtual Q&A, the importance of the vaccine cannot be stressed enough.

“I can’t begin to put into words how important it is for anyone to get vaccinated especially the kids,” Wagner said.

As the COVID-19 cases keep surging, Wagner said the frontline workers keep working harder and getting more and more burnt out.

She reflected on vaccines becoming available a year ago and how hopeful they were.

“We really felt like it was going to be the end of the pandemic. But unfortunately, not enough people were vaccinated, we continue to see surges and spikes. Our census would go up, up, and up. Our patients were sicker every single time we would have a spike,” Wagner said.

She said the vaccine is “detrimental” to keeping stress off the hospital system as the surges continue.

“It is the one thing that we have at our disposal that anybody could get that can keep you out of the hospital, potentially off of a ventilator, and save your life. I mean, it can be life-saving,” she said.

View the entire Q&A below: