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Children now playing ‘huge role’ in spread of COVID-19 variant, expert says


New developments in the COVID-19 pandemic have one leading epidemiologist re-evaluating his own advice.

Dr. Michael Osterholm is the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. He was also a member of Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board during the time between Biden being elected president and inaugurated.

Osterholm previously supported sending children back to school. He said the virus was not a major threat to children. Now, the situation has changed.

“Please understand, this B.1.1.7 variant is a brand new ball game,” Osterholm said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “It infects kids very readily. Unlike previous strains of the virus, we didn’t see children under 8th grade get infected often or they were not frequently very ill, they didn’t transmit to the rest of the community.”

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The B.1.1.7 variant was first identified in the United Kingdom. It’s now ripping through parts of the country.

In Minnesota, Osterholm said more than 740 schools reported cases of the variant. In Michigan more young people are ending up in hospitals fighting more serious symptoms than previously seen in children with COVID-19.

This is similar to what health officials have seen in other countries.

The British Medical Journal wrote two months ago that “emerging evidence from Israel and Italy (shows) more young children are being infected with new variants of COVID-19.”

Seeing that happen in his own backyard, Osterholm is now questioning his own previous advice.

“Anywhere you look where you see this emerging, you see that kids are playing a huge role in the transmission of this,” Osterholm said. “All the things that we had planned for about kids in schools with this virus are really no longer applicable. We’ve got to take a whole new look at this issue.”

Vaccinations are expected to help fight off the B.1.1.7 variant. However, Osterholm said there’s simply not enough time to just rely on vaccinations.

“We’re not going to have nearly enough (vaccine doses) in the next 6 to 8 weeks to get through this surge, and we’re going to have to look at other avenues to do that just as every other country in the world who’s had a B.1.1.7 surge has had to do.”

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More young people infected, hospitalized

The difference between previous surges and another possible surge now is “the people most affected now are the younger individuals,” emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN on Sunday.

Older populations have been prioritized nationwide for Covid-19 vaccinations. More than 54% of Americans 65 and older have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, while more than 75% of that same age group have gotten at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose.

But while that age group is now relatively well protected, Wen said, younger groups are still vulnerable as the B.1.1.7 variant circulates. The variant is more contagious and may cause more severe disease, experts have said. Research suggests it may also be more deadly.

“We’re seeing in places like Michigan that the people who are now getting hospitalized by large numbers are people in their 30s and 40s,” Wen said. “And now we’re even seeing children getting infected in larger numbers too.”

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It’s not just Michigan.

“What we’re seeing is pockets of infection around the country, particularly in younger people who haven’t been vaccinated, and also in school-aged children,” former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“If you look what’s happening in Michigan, in Minnesota, in Massachusetts, for example, you’re seeing outbreaks in schools and infections in social…



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