SCHD data show about 12% of COVID-19 cases are children under the age of 18

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — More children are getting the coronavirus. The American Academy of Pediatrics says 22 percent of new COVID cases nationwide are in children.

Just a year ago, children made up only about three percent of U.S. cases.

Data from the Shelby County Health Department shows about 12 percent of all the COVID cases the county has seen are in children under the age of 18. It’s not clear from the public data, though, how that’s changed over time.

Deputy Health Director David Sweat said a likely contributing factor to the overall uptick in pediatric cases is vaccine eligibility.

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He said nationwide, about 70 percent of people 65 and older have been vaccinated. As more people get the shot and more variants emerge, the virus is spreading among those who are not protected, like children.

“The virus is opportunistic and is able to go where it is able to transmit most freely,” Sweat said. “Because children can’t be vaccinated, they represent an opportunity for the virus to get established and spread.”

Sweat said he expects the FDA to approve the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children as young as 12 as soon as this week or next.

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He said this will make reaching herd immunity in Shelby County much more achievable.

Sweat said the goal is to have at least 70 percent of people vaccinated in the county.

“What we’re seeing is lack of vaccination in this younger group of individuals and the virus is, unfortunately, cropping up,” said Dr. Nick Hysmith with Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

Hysmith said he believes COVID cases among children make up roughly a fifth of cases because kids under 16 can’t get vaccinated, something that may change for kids 12 and up by early next week.

”This is something that will protect ourselves, the community. Help us get back to our normal way of life,” said Hysmith.

Hysmith believes students returning to school, other extracurricular activities, and the variant is also contributing to the spike. He encourages parents to get their kids vaccinated when the time comes

“We’ve given it to kids over 16 already, haven’t seen red flags, and I think it’s perfectly safe,” said Hysmith.