Most pediatricians have spent lots of time, energy and passion encouraging parents to allow their children age 5 and older to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Their expertise, the data and their trust in science offer all they need to know that vaccination is safe, effective and vital in our efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus and keep children — and those around them — healthy.
For Dr. Ahmad Bailony, department chief of pediatrics at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, his own experience as a child has afforded him a unique viewpoint when it comes to vaccine-preventable diseases: He almost died due to the complications of one.
“When I was a kid, I was hospitalized for weeks with meningitis,” he says. “In my entire career as a doctor, I’ve never seen a case of that specific type of meningitis among my patients, and that’s because we now have a vaccine for that disease.”
The contagiousness of omicron
Another thing Dr. Bailony says he’s yet to see in his 17 years as a pediatrician is a virus that is as contagious as the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
“It is no exaggeration that approximately every other call coming into our office is about COVID-19,” he says. “COVID, in general, and the rapid spread of omicron are really causing parents a lot of stress and anxiety, which is understandable.”
According to Dr. Bailony, anecdotal evidence is showing that omicron may cause less severe illness in people of all ages than previous variants. However, he says that more children are seeking care and requiring hospitalization now that omicron is spreading.
“Given that this variant is more contagious, an increased number of children are getting COVID-19, especially those under the age of 5 who are not yet eligible for vaccination,” he says. “So, as more children get COVID, you’ll inevitably see more kids becoming more severely ill from it.”
This is why, Dr. Bailony says, it is crucial that everyone who is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination — including children age 5 and older and their family members, and those age 5 and older eligible to receive a booster shot — get vaccinated so we can stop the spread and protect more children from becoming ill. “This is a matter of all of us taking care of each other — we’re in this together,” he says.
Dr. Bailony also recommends that families continue to practice all other COVID-prevention strategies:
- Choose outdoor activities over indoor activities.
- Wear a face mask when in indoor public locations.
- Avoid places that are poorly ventilated.
- Avoid crowded places and gatherings where it is difficult to stay 6 feet away from others.
- Wash hands often with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Sanitize frequently touched surfaces.
- Avoid people who are sick.
- Monitor your health for symptoms of COVID-19 — cough, nasal congestion, fatigue, sore throat, headache, body aches and fever — and get tested if symptoms develop.
If your child has COVID
As COVID-19 cases rise within the community, your child’s chance of COVID exposure and infection also rises. However, Dr. Bailony stresses that in most cases, you can treat your child as you would if they had any other respiratory illness.
Symptoms are usually mild and last a few days to a week. Although, a very small number of children may experience multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a rare, life-threatening condition that can cause dangerous inflammation in the eyes, skin, blood vessels and heart.
“If your child is not having trouble breathing, is taking fluids pretty well and still making good urine output, generally, you can watch them at home,” he says. “You should definitely have them tested for COVID, which may take some patience as there is a great demand for testing. And then, you should isolate your child from others and contact your child’s pediatrician for further advice.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends talking to your child’s doctor about using pediatric over-the-counter medications for fever, aches and pain. And make sure your child rests and drinks a lot of fluids.
Also, you should monitor your child for signs of severe illness, and seek emergency medical care immediately if they are experiencing any:
- Trouble breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds
“The best way to protect your child from illness is to get them vaccinated and boosted when they’re eligible,” Dr. Bailony says. “We have been vaccinating kids for months now, and 100% that have come through our office and received a vaccine have been fine. In fact, a lot of them are excited to get it, and their parents are relieved that we have vaccines to avoid severe pediatric illness and hospitalization like my own.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Bailony about kids and the omicron variant, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.