MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee's former vaccine leader, Michelle Fiscus, warns parents that the Delta variant is attacking children and doesn't compare to the flu. With kids heading back to the classroom, it's reigniting the debate if masks should be worn in school. As we've seen this past week, parents are not backing down when it comes to officials forcing their children to wear a mask.
Some parents call mask mandates unnecessary, arguing COVID is just like the flu, but is this a fair comparison? Fiscus said no. She said COVID-19 spreads easier and faster than the flu and has severe long-term effects.
"As a pediatrician, the thing that concerns me the most is not knowing what these infections are going to do to young bodies that are growing," Fiscus said. We have some data that suggest that at least some children will have heart disease as a result of this, and there are some indications that there might be brain involvement as a result of these infections."
While children are at a lower risk to get severely sick from COVID, Fiscus stresses there is a new variant, surging cases, and a vaccine that isn't available for children under 12. About two weeks ago, the CDC announced the delta variant spreads as easily as chickenpox, and vaccinated people might be just as contagious as the unvaccinated.
"Children under the age of 12 are not eligible for vaccination, so the only thing we can do for them that is really protective is for them to wear a mask," she said. "So that layer of cloth is not harming them in any way."
When comparing the flu and COVID-19 hospitalizations, there are about 3,400 COVID hospitalizations in children under the age of 18, as of Aug. 11. During the 2017-2018 flu season, about 46,000 children under 18 were in the hospital. That's the worst flu season in America's most recent history.
But comparing deaths tells a different story. More kids have died of COVID-19 in the last 18 months than in the 2017-2018 flu season. As of August 11, 354 children, under the age of 18, have died since the start of the pandemic compared to 188 child flu deaths during the 2017-2018 flu season.
"This pandemic, this virus is more contagious than flu virus at this point with this new variant," Fiscus said.
The bottom line is COVID-19 is not the flu. Fiscus said children should be masking up until COVID cases are under control because one child dying is one too many.