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Coronavirus Files: The Youth Issue. Foster kids left adrift; Vaccines being tested in under-12s

Coronavirus Files: The Youth Issue. Foster kids left adrift; Vaccines being tested in under-12s

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Since Apri 2020, the Center for Health Journalism has been publishing a special newsletter geared to journalists as they report on one of the biggest and most complex stories of our times. Each Monday, while the pandemic runs its course, The Coronavirus Files will provide tips and resources and highlight exemplary work to help you with your coverage. This week, The Center for Health Journalism’s Coronavirus Files Monday newsletter is curated and reported by science writer Amber Dance, PhD. Have a suggestion or a request? Write us at
For foster kids, lockdown begets 'perhaps irreversible damage'
AP’s Sally Ho and Camille Fassett shine the light on how the pandemic impacted kids in foster care and their families, and they paint a distressing picture. With court cases delayed and crucial services that promote family reunification unavailable, children have lingered in the system. AP calculated that decreased reunifications and adoptions in the early months of the pandemic meant 22,600 fewer children exited the foster system than during the same time period in 2019. Children of color and from poor families are overrepresented in the foster system, meaning “the pandemic has amplified not just the challenges of poor parenting but of parenting while poor,” the authors write. “Vulnerable families are suffering long-term and perhaps irreversible damage, experts say, which could leave parents with weakened bonds with their children.”  
Some states attempted to help where they could by extending eligibility to teens who would have aged out of the system in normal years. Nicole Wagner, a judge in King County, Washington, said she hopes the pandemic experience will provide lessons that help the system better support reunification in the future.
Young people can get seriously ill with COVID
Now that many older adults have been vaccinated, the focus turns to younger groups, writes Ariel Cohen at Roll Call. Young adults are the age group most likely to refuse the shot, writes Cohen, with community-wide consequences if they transmit the virus. “Our best bet to get closer to herd immunity, if not get there, is to pick up young people,” said bioethics professor Arthur Caplan of NYU.
Young people may feel invincible — but the latest data shows that’s far from the case. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that while death is rare in kids and teens, COVID-19 causes more complications, such as pneumonia and low blood-oxygen levels, compared with the flu. And according to new CDC data, COVID-19 hospitalizations rose in adolescents during early spring, to a number triple the typical rate for flu. Around one-third of those who were hospitalized needed an ICU, and 5% needed a ventilator; none died. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky called the data “troubling” and encouraged teens to keep their masks on until they complete vaccination.
Scientists are starting to get a handle on what raises the likelihood of hospitalization for under-18s with COVID-19, writes Zaina Hamza at MedPage Today. Diabetes and obesity are among the biggest risk factors. But the risk and risk factors for long COVID symptoms in children and teens remain unknown, reports Elizabeth Cooney in STAT. Some physicians expect the symptoms won’t last forever. “We’re cautiously optimistic,” Dr. Alicia Johnson of Boston Children’s told her. “Kids are resilient.”
Younger kids could be vaccinated in fall
Last week Pfizer kicked off its last-stage clinical trial in children aged 5 through 11 years, and the company plans to test the vaccine in kids as young as 6 months soon. If all goes well, this could lead to an FDA application by September. Moderna also expects to have data on children as young as 5 by fall. But emergency authorization can’t be taken for granted; an FDA expert panel that met Thursday was “torn” on whether the pandemic meets the threshold of an emergency for young children, who aren’t as susceptible as adults, writes Chrystal Phend at MedPage Today. One topic of discussion: the CDC is monitoring a potential link between vaccinations and heart inflammation in teens. CDC’s vaccine advisory committee will meet on June 18 to discuss that issue further.
“Because COVID-19 has not caused the same level of serious disease in children as it has in adults, the FDA said companies will have to make a strong case for authorizing their use in children,” writes Maggie Fox at CNN.
Looking forward to back-to-school
Though children are just starting their summer vacation, many school districts are already planning for in-person autumn sessions. Studies on schools that successfully opened last year suggest how to do so safely: good ventilation, frequent testing, and masks on adults, though not necessarily on the kids themselves. Indeed, a study of San Francisco sites that taught vulnerable students in person last year found no instances of COVID transmission among more than 1,700 children — even though only about two-thirds of kids wore masks, and it was often impossible to maintain six feet of distance between them, according to the paper in Pediatrics. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security urges schools to spend COVID relief funds on ventilation and air filtration, arguing it not only sweeps away the virus, but also boosts student performance when classrooms aren’t stuffy.
Some students won’t be putting their pencils down for summer; enrollment in summer school is expected to break records, reports Trevor Hughes at USA Today. But, he adds, offering summer programming likely won’t be enough to help kids who’ve fallen behind, often Black or Latino children from low-income families, catch up. 2021 summer school will also have a more complex purpose than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. “It’s about really trying to help kids recover academically, emotionally, and socially,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “It has to be about helping kids get their mojo back.”
From the Center for Health Journalism
Many adults remain unvaccinated, as discussed at a Center for Health Journalism webinar last Wednesday, Covering COVID: The Vaccine Tipping Point (available in full online). New York Times correspondent Amy Harmon noted that the unimmunized group includes not only people who are unwilling to get a shot, but also those who genuinely lack easy access or opportunity. Kaiser Health News Montana correspondent Katheryn Houghton recommended that to find sources who are unvaccinated, journalists should hit the pavement and go to non-obvious places, such as garage sales. And as authorities experiment with incentives ranging from doughnuts to marijuanaAlison Buttenheim, a University of Pennsylvania associate professor of nursing and health policy, is excited about a Philadelphia program that will draw names for cash prizes from a list of all residents in target ZIP codes — but only hand over the money if the winners are already vaccinated.
What we're reading
  • “The fundamental question of the pandemic is shifting,” by Ed Yong, The Atlantic
  • “Some Black parents see less bullying, racism with online learning and are keeping kids home,” by Laura Newberry and Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • “Biden’s vaccine push fails to gain traction with African Americans,” by Adam Cancryn, Politico
  • “Scientists begin to unravel the mysteries of coronavirus and brains,” by Ben Guarino and Frances Stead Sellers, The Washington Post
  • “California mandated masks. Florida opened its restaurants. Did any of it matter?” by Dylan Scott, Vox
  • “A blueprint for preventing another pandemic,” by a team at TIME

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U.S. children and teens have struggled with increasing rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal behavior for much of the past decade. Join us as we explore the systemic causes and policy failures that have accelerated the crisis and its inequitable impact, as well as promising community-driven approaches and evidence-based practices. The webinar will provide fresh ideas for reporting on the mental health of youth and investigating the systems and services. Sign-up here!

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