Concerns about students returning to the classroom come as the FDA has expanded the emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 boosters to children ages 12 to 15.
Meanwhile, a British study finds that people who contracted the omicron variant were about half as likely to need hospital care as those with delta.
Dr. David Slade, associate medical director of infection prevention control at Loyola Medicine, discusses this COVID-19 news and more.
Below, a Q&A with Slade.
Many local students returned to classrooms Monday after winter break Parents and staff are concerned whether schools are safe in person. What does the medical data say?
I think we have to start by looking at the overall risk to our children. We know that traditionally children have been in a lower risk group overall for severe effects of COVID-19. But we’re seeing with the omicron variant extremely rapid spread right now. We are seeing increased rates of hospitalization even in children. What I can say is still the best protection for children and for the population as a whole is vaccination.
So if your children are eligible, I would highly recommend to go out and have them vaccinated. I think overall risk remains low to children right now, even lower if they’re vaccinated. When we’re looking at decisions about going to school, wearing masks versus staying home or remote learning, those decisions will have to be made based on the particulars if there’s a very high rate or outbreak in a particular classroom or particular school.
The FDA authorized COVID-19 booster shots for kids aged 12 to 15. What should parents and kids know about that?
The FDA looked at the safety of the booster shot in that age group based on some data that came out of Israel recently. They looked at about 6,000 children who had received the booster dose and it appears to be very safe – no added risks. We’re seeing the population as a whole an added benefit to the booster in the protection against omicron. So I think a lot of incentive to go out and get the booster right now.
A British study found that people who contracted the omicron variant were about half as likely to need hospital care as compares to those with delta. Does that prove that omicron is a less severe variant?
Everything that I’m seeing right now supports that. Omicron, it spreads much more rapidly, but overall, it is less severe. Now, when we’re seeing this huge influx of people into the hospital, we’re seeing the ability of the virus to spread so rapidly, almost outweighing that factor that it is less severe. So we’re just seeing so many more people infected right now.
Do you anticipate a steep drop-off in cases like what happened in South Africa?
I do, I really do. It’s really hard to predict or to say with certainty. But looking at the way we saw it (drop) so quickly in South Africa, I think we’re looking at a very rapid spread over perhaps a four-week period and it should decrease substantially – that’s my hope.
Do you think omicron is the last variant?
My instinct is that we’re heading toward the endgame with the complete panic phase of this and more towards an endemic. If we look at past pandemics, if we look at endemic influenza, it has continued to circulate in the population for a period of time and has been regularly circulating virus. But you know, I think we can expect perhaps further variants, mutations – hopefully they are less severe. I think it will always be there to a certain extent, but not to the extent that we're sitting here right now, not by any measure.
The city implemented its indoor vaccine policy Monday. Do you think that could curb this at all?
I support it. I think it’s really important measure. It by no means will lead to any sudden stop in the spread of the virus. What it will do is provide further protection and peace of mind for people going out to restaurants. If you are vaccinated, you’re substantially less likely to have a severe case, to be admitted to the hospital and it provides protection against those severe cases and against death. It should help to slow the spread.
Interview has been condensed and edited.