JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – It started out as the silver lining for parents that even if their kids contracted COVID-19, they likely wouldn’t get as sick. Now, that is no longer the case.
As the omicron variant has become the most dominant strain of COVID-19 in the region, Niswonger Children’s Hospital Chief Executive Officer Lisa Carter told News Channel 11 they’ve seen some of the highest pediatric COVID hospitalization rates yet.
“We see all the time healthy kids with no chronic illnesses and no other comorbidities sick and being hospitalized with COVID-19,” she said. “So that is very much a reality.”
On Friday, the hospital system reported seven pediatric COVID admissions at the children’s hospital. Carter said that number increased to nine over the weekend.
“Just over this past week, we’ve seen healthy normal newborns and infants who are affected with COVID-19 who have required hospitalization and so it’s so hard to gauge and know how people are going to respond to the illness,” she said.
On the bright side, Carter explained that most of the pediatric COVID patients are admitted to the Medical Surgical (Med-Surg) COVID ward instead of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) because the kids don’t seem to be getting as sick, but she said it’s still too early to speculate how the variant will impact each age group yet.
“Some people become very sick some people have no symptoms at all. It’s just really hard to reconcile that risk and so knowing that those smaller lower age children and, you know, the non-school-aged under the age of five who aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated, those patients or that population are very vulnerable. And so working to keep those children infection-free is very much important,” Carter said.
To Margie Kendall, being a “pandemic mom” is all she knows.
“My oldest daughter was born a month before COVID hit, so really being a parent during COVID is all we’ve ever known,” she told News Channel 11.
Her daughters are both under the age of two, meaning they are both ineligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’re still unaware of some of their underlying health conditions because they’re so young, so we’re really nervous, with them being so vulnerable, with omicron being so contagious – if they get it, I know that the severity of it really ranges, we’re just unsure of how they might react to it, makes us incredibly nervous,” she said.
Down the road, Sam Pettyjohn has three children. His daughter is old enough and vaccinated but his two sons remain too young.
“We wish we had an extra layer of protection with them being vaccinated, would really give us better peace of mind,” Pettyjohn said. “And we have such low rates of vaccination among our adult population here that it really gives us pause to go out and work and be in our community just because we’re so concerned about the risk of our sons getting sick and hospitalized.”
The uncertainty is what scares many parents.
“We don’t want our children who are healthy children to get sick to the point of being hospitalized or having any long-term effects,” Pettyjohn said. “So yeah, as the pandemic has changed, and as the different variants have changed, it’s made us become more concerned for our youngest kids.”
His hope is that all those who are eligible to get vaccinated get the shot in order to protect those most vulnerable and those unable to gain the protection of the vaccine.
“I would hope that parents who have children are eligible to be vaccinated to kind of see what’s happening to the kids that aren’t and the increase in hospitalizations and the concern for the potential for long-term injury to those kids and really go out and focus on getting their kids vaccinated,” Pettyjohn. said.
He said he advocates for the vaccine at every opportunity so he can help keep his kids safe.
“The key to keeping everybody safe is to get as many people including the children vaccinated as possible,” Pettyjohn said.