Children's Hospital Colorado (copy)

Children’s Hospital Colorado has cared for 2,000 children with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

El Paso County parents are showing strong interest in COVID-19 vaccines for their children, with more than 1,800 kids ages 5 to 11 getting their first shot in the first few days of the roll-out. 

Children's Hospital Colorado Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael DiStefano outlined the importance of the pediatric vaccine to local officials during a El Paso County Board of Health meeting last week, noting children are far more susceptible to infection with the spread of the delta variant than they were previously. He faced a few skeptical questions during the meeting, followed by hours of testimony by the public directed at the board that questioned the vaccine and pushed back on any vaccine mandate. El Paso County officials said they have no intention of issuing a mandate. 

DiStefano described a rise in COVID-19, saying in the early days of the pandemic children accounted for 5% of infections and they now account for 25%. While most children don't get severely ill from the virus, he has treated children who have developed trouble breathing, among other complications. 

"It hasn’t been as benign as the general population has thought of it as," he said. 

The Children's Hospital system has cared for about 2,000 kids for COVID and its complications since the pandemic started, and that's included multiple children who have been flown from Colorado Springs to the system's cardiac intensive care unit because of conditions they developed as a result of their COVID-19 infections, he said. Those cases have included children with long-term complications from the virus, such as chronic fatigue. About 4% of children experience symptoms from COVID-19 for four weeks, and 1.8% have symptoms for eight weeks or longer, he said via email. 

"While kids have been resilient to this, it has been challenging from a care perspective," DiStefano said. 

In El Paso County, three COVID-19 patients between the ages of 10 to 19 have died from the virus, public health data show.

Children's Hospital participated in the clinical trial for the Pfizer vaccine for children, enrolling 252 participants, or about 10% of all children in the global study. The vaccine was shown to be safe and almost 91% effective in preventing infection in those 5 to 11, DiStefano said. 

Colorado Springs City Councilman Dave Donelson raised several questions about the risk of the vaccine, including whether it can cause inflammation of the heart wall. 

The vaccine trials showed zero cases of heart inflammation in kids ages 5 to 11 years old, DiStefano said in an email. Teenagers have experienced a few cases of inflammation, but most were mild and they recovered in one to two days. 

He was not aware of any children who needed hospital care after getting the COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado Springs, he said. Children's Hospital has treated a few children ages 12 to 15 with heart inflammation following their vaccine, but all the cases have been mild and the patients returned home, he said. 

He also plans to vaccinate his own 10-year-old daughter after she recovers from COVID, he said. 

El Paso County started rolling out COVID-19 vaccines for those 5 to 11 last weekend and reached 1,819 kids through the end of the day Nov. 8, said Michelle Beyrle, spokeswoman for county public health. 

"We have seen strong interest in pediatric vaccines in El Paso County so far, with clinics filling up very quickly. Many parents have expressed relief in having the opportunity to vaccinate their children," she said. 

Across the county, children 5 to 11 are also experiencing the greatest number of new cases each day on average as compared other age groups, she said. 

Immunizing children protects elder family members and those around them that may have weakened immune systems from conditions, such as cancer, DiStefano said. 

It can also give kids more opportunities to socialize, which helps ensure normal development, and physical and mental health, he said. 

Numerous pediatric COVID-19 vaccine clinics are available; a full listing is available at elpasocountyhealth.org/how-can-i-get-a-vaccine.

Contact the writer: mary.shinn@gazette.com

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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