Dr. Fauci Just Issued This Major Warning About Long COVID
The infectious disease expert opened up the potential for long-term effects.
The COVID pandemic has trudged along for nearly two years now, with the virus infecting more than 46 million people in the U.S. alone, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, even those who got infected early on in 2020 might still be feeling the effects of their illness. Health experts have estimated that millions of people are suffering from long COVID, which is the name given to long-term symptoms some people are experiencing weeks and months after their initial positive COVID case. From ongoing shortness of breath and cognitive problems to chest pain and heart palpitations, these new or ongoing symptoms may have significant health consequences that researchers are still trying to learn more about.
During a White House COVID briefing on Nov. 3, top COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, opened up about both long COVID and child vaccinations. According to the infectious disease expert, children can experience extended illness from the virus as well.
"There's ongoing and residual symptoms and complications reported in children—referred to as 'long COVID'—which occurs in children, maybe to a lesser extent, about 4 to 6 percent," Fauci said. "But nonetheless, long COVID does occur in children."
More than six million children have been diagnosed with COVID since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). But as for how many children have suffered from long COVID, the data is less clearly defined. A Sept. 1 study published in the BMJ found that 1 in 7 children still had COVID-related symptoms 15 weeks after their initial diagnosis. But an earlier study published Aug. 3 in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health claimed that less than 1 in 20 children had symptoms lasting longer than four weeks.
"Different studies have shown different results, depending on what parts of the world or which parts of the country you're looking at," Carlos Oliveira, MD, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist, explained to Yale Medicine.
And the numbers may be higher depending on what people count as long COVID. One of the most prevalent long-term COVID complications in children is multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C. This is a rare, but serious condition that can cause different body parts to become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs, per the CDC.
"If you include every child who has been hospitalized with MIS-C, [by definition a complication of acute COVID], you'll come up with a higher prevalence," Oliveira noted. The CDC reports that there have been more than 5,000 MIS-C cases in COVID-positive children under the age of 18 and 46 subsequent deaths, as of Oct. 4.
According to the AAP, there is no single long COVID symptom that can identify a case in children. Both children and adolescents have experienced extended chest pain, cough, labored breathing, while affected children and teens tend to report longer cases of fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, joint pain, headache, and sore throat.
"An otherwise healthy child may say, 'I don't feel like I should get out of bed in the morning.' Or they say, 'I used to be on the high school cross country team. And now I can barely make it down the street before I have to take a break,'" Ian Ferguson, MD, a Yale Medicine rheumatologist who has been working with pediatric COVID patients, told Yale Medicine.
Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC just authorized COVID vaccines for children five to 11 years old with the Pfizer vaccine. Pediatric vaccinations have already begun across the U.S., but they are expected to be in full swing starting the week of Nov. 8. According to the CDC, the vaccine is both safe and nearly 91 percent effective in preventing COVID among children of this age group.
"With this vote, we are now expanding vaccine recommendations to more than 28 million children in the United States," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said during the Nov. 3 press briefing. "I want to speak directly to parents about this recommendation. We have followed the scientific process. We have done our due diligence. Please know we have thoroughly reviewed all of the available safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy data before recommending this vaccine for your child."
Studies have also indicated that getting vaccinated might reduce one's chances of developing long COVID. According to a Sept. 1 study published in The Lancet, fully vaccinated people who got a breakthrough COVID infection were about 50 percent less likely to develop long COVID than unvaccinated people with COVID.
"I've shown you disease burden, incidence, transmission, and the efficacy of the vaccine—every reason in the world to get our children vaccinated," Fauci said during the White House briefing.