Fact check: How deadly is COVID-19 for kids?


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the narratives has been that the virus usually doesn’t hit children all that hard.

But a state Department of Health and Human Services official caught us by surprise with a claim about how deadly the disease has been that seemed hard to believe.

THE CLAIM: Dr. Charlene Wong, a pediatrician and the agency’s chief health policy officer for COVID-19, said that the virus has “been on the top 10 list now (of) the things that are killing our younger children.”

THE FACTS: She’s actually right.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has researched where COVID ranks among the top causes of death for 10 age groups in every month of 2021.

And in both August and September — the most recent months analyzed — COVID was among the top 10 killers of kids.

For children between 1 and 4 years old, COVID was the No. 7 cause of death in those months, and it ranked No. 6 among those between the ages of 5 and 14.

In fact, for children between 5 and 14, COVID was in the top 10 every month this year except June and July, when it ranked 13th and 11th, respectively.

For the younger group, it was also on the top 10 in April.

“People will say, ‘Oh, kids aren’t as affected by COVID,’” said Dr. Peyton Thompson, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

“And sure that’s the case, but, you know, they’re moreso affected now than at the beginning of the pandemic,” she said.

Especially since children continue to make up a large chunk of the new cases that come in every week.

Kids younger than 18 have made up at least a quarter of those new cases in North Carolina for 11 consecutive weeks, a streak that dates back to late August.

And nationally, the American Academy of Pediatrics said children accounted for one fourth of the new cases reported during the first week in November.

Of course, the biggest reason for that is because until earlier this month, children younger than 12 were not eligible to receive the vaccine.

And while more than 66,000 kids between 5 and 11 have gotten their first shot — or, 7 percent of the roughly 900,000 children who make up that age group — it figures to be another few weeks before their vaccination push shows up in their weekly case counts.

NCDHHS says unvaccinated people of all ages are five times more likely to catch COVID and 22 times more likely to die from it than vaccinated people are.

“We have to remember that when children don’t get vaccinated, they tend to cluster with other children and maybe other adults that don’t get vaccinated,” said Dr. Sudha Raman, an assistant professor in the department of population health sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine.

“And so those groups are going to, to not have the benefit of sort of that decreased COVID hospitalization and death rate,” she said.

CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.

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