LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Cadell Walker rushed to get her 9-year-old daughter Solome vaccinated against COVID-19 – not just to protect her but to help stop the coronavirus from spreading and spawning even more dangerous variants.
“The only way to really beat COVID is for all of us collectively to work together for the greater good,” said the 40-year-old Louisville mom, who recently took Solome to a local middle school for her shot.
Scientists agree. Each infection – whether in an adult in Yemen or a kid in Kentucky – gives the virus another opportunity to mutate. Protecting a new, large chunk of the population anywhere in the world limits those opportunities.
That effort got a lift with 28 million U.S. kids 5 to 11 years old now eligible for child-sized doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Vaccinating kids also means reducing silent spread, since most have no or mild symptoms when they contract the virus. When the virus spreads unseen, scientists say, it also goes unabated. And as more people contract it, the odds of new variants rise.
David O'Connor, a virology expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, likens infections to “lottery tickets that we're giving the virus.” The jackpot? A variant even more dangerous than the contagious delta currently circulating.
“The fewer people who are infected, the less lottery tickets it has and the better off we're all going to be in terms of generating the variants,” he said, adding that variants are even more likely to emerge in people with weakened immune systems who harbor the virus for a long time.
Getting kids vaccinated could make a real difference going forward, according to estimates by the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, a collection of university and medical research organizations that consolidates models of how the pandemic may unfold. The hub's latest estimates show that for this November through March 12, 2022, vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds would avert about 430,000 COVID cases in the overall U.S. population if no new variant arose. If a variant 50% more transmissible than delta showed up in late fall, 860,000 cases would be averted, “a big impact,” said project co-leader Katriona Shea, of Pennsylvania State University.