COVID-19 Vaccine Is a Good Defense Against Overcrowded Pediatric Hospitals

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At Stanford Medicine Children’s Health in Palo Alto, Calif., health officials are encouraging families to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza ahead of the holiday season. Health experts fear the threat of the trio of respiratory viruses hitting at once — that’s respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), COVID-19 and the flu — and its impact on capacity. Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford is at a “level 3 alert,” one level short of putting tents outside the hospital in order to treat infected children. And their capacity concerns are not unique. Pediatric hospitals nationwide are starting to fill with patients due to these same viruses.

David Cornfield, M.D., chief of pediatric pulmonary and critical care medicine at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, has advice on how to stay safe from the triple threat of viruses during the holiday season. In an interview with the CBS news affiliate in San Francisco, Cornfield talks about a significant immunity gap, which leads to deferred infections, such as RSV. Children build natural immunity to viruses when they’re exposed to them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most kids catch RSV at some point before they turn two. But for a couple of years, there has been little opportunity for children born during the pandemic or the people around them to catch RSV — or other viruses. Decreased exposure to endemic viruses creates what is called an immunity gap. It’s a group of susceptible people who avoided infection and therefore lack pathogen-specific immunity to protect against future infection. That means their immunity has waned or never formed at all, so when they interact with others, they are more likely to get sick.

“I don’t believe myself that the [RSV] virus is any worse than it has been, but I do recognize that it is more frequent, more prevalent —presenting earlier and causing more kids to get sick this year compared to other years,” said Cornfield. “It’s incredibly important to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza to reduce hospitalizations. It’s the single best protection you can provide. And then all we have to worry about is RSV, which the majority of time causes a fairly innocuous, relatively nonsevere infection. Generally, the vast majority of children with RSV never get hospitalized. It’s just that so many are affected right now that many are getting hospitalized.”

Cornfield also encourages people, including children, to return to wearing a face mask and washing their hands often, especially during the holiday season.

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