Concerns rise as more children contract COVID-19 variant

SEATTLE — COVID-19 cases among children were found to be rare. But with the stronger, more contagious variant B.1.1.7 first detected in the U.K., some experts said that could be changing.

“It infects kids very readily. Unlike the previous strains of the virus, we didn’t see children under eighth grade get infected often,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. He talked about his concerns on Meet the Press on Sunday. He said cases among children in Minnesota are rising quickly, making him question in-person learning. “That’s why I was one of those strongly supporting reopening in-class learning. B.1.1.7 turns that on its head. These kids are now major challenges in terms of how they transmit,” he said.

KIRO 7 wanted to know what was happening in Washington.

“I think we really need to wait to see the data, really analyze the evidence on that as to whether or not kids are truly going to experience more severe illness with the U.K. variant,” said Dr. Danielle Zerr, the division chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease Research at Seattle Children’s. She said implementing safety measures is the key to keeping children safe — social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands.

Zerr is working with eight area school districts to test students and staff for COVID-19 by using rapid tests.

“Usually, most cases of infection are acquired in the community and brought into the school, and then the strategies the schools are using limit further transmission in the school space,” said Zerr.

If the B.1.1.7 variant is found to be spreading in children, she said vaccinating them will be an important part of reaching herd immunity.

“If they affect children as frequently as they do adults, and children are likely to pass them on, then children become really important,” said Zerr.

Pfizer is expected to request emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12-15 later this month. The Washington Department of Health stated if all goes well, the vaccine should be available for children 12 and older by this summer.