Study says 140,000 children lost a caregiver to COVID
Children face collateral consequences of pandemic
A STUDY PUBLISHED by the American Academy of Pediatrics in the journal Pediatrics on Thursday quantifies yet another tragic outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic: orphanhood.
The study used modeling to estimate that, from April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, more than 120,000 children in the US under age 18 lost their parent or custodial grandparent to a COVID-associated death. Another 22,000 lost a “secondary caregiver,” such as a grandparent providing housing for the family.
Of those children who lost a caregiver to COVID, 65 percent were racial and ethnic minorities – even though minorities make up just 39 percent of the population. The researchers say this is symptomatic of broader inequities that have made Black and Latino individuals more likely to contract COVID.
Susan Hillis, lead author of the study, said in a press release put out by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that COVID-related orphanhood is “a hidden, global pandemic that has sadly not spared the United States.” “All of us – especially our children – will feel the serious immediate and long-term impact of this problem for generations to come,” Hillis said, adding that addressing this loss must be a top priority in the response to COVID.
Children have been facing mental health crises at unprecedented numbers, due to stress, isolation, and a lack of educational and social supports. CommonWealth reported that due to stresses on the health care system, many of these children cannot get timely treatment.
Students have lost a year of education to the struggles of remote learning, and plunging MCAS scores this year illustrate how much ground many kids need to make up.
Even as vaccinated adults began returning to more normal life, children under 12 have been ineligible for vaccines, meaning families have continued to face tough choices about what risks they want to take with their unvaccinated children.
There was some potential bright news Thursday, when Pfizer asked the US Food and Drug Administration to approve its COVID vaccine for children ages five to 11. The Boston Globe reported that a panel of experts will convene October 26 to consider the request, and US officials have said the shot could be available by Thanksgiving, if it is approved by the FDA and CDC.
Some have speculated that getting kids shots could be a key to ending the pandemic, since it will increase the chances of reaching herd immunity, while limiting the virus’s spread among a population that is indoors with other people all day, every day. Some suggest that vaccines for children along with the potential for a new pill that is awaiting regulatory approval to mitigate against severe COVID could be keys to a return to normalcy.That said, there are questions about how many parents will vaccinate their children, especially since the virus tends to be less severe in kids. An August survey by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that fewer than half of parents are likely to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. And if the Delta strain has shown anything, it is that predictions of a vaccine-induced end to the pandemic may be premature. Experts now say the virus is likely to be endemic – always with us in some form – and the question will become how best to live with it.
As the sobering study on orphanhood reminds us, there are many children for whom the impact of COVID will never be completely over.