Ask a Pediatrician: What Can Parents Expect for Kids’ Health in 2022?
Hello Cubby Editors! What a timely question for the end of this trying year.
Parenting is already so difficult, but on top of that the pandemic has pushed parents and caregivers to their limits. As a pediatrician, your child’s health is my number one priority. I see you — I am in your corner and always will be.
2021 was a year of both triumphs and setbacks. We started the year with the hope that enough people would get vaccinated against COVID-19 so that we may end this pandemic as fast as possible. While many did get vaccinated, many individuals did not. Unfortunately, due to vaccine misinformation, a high percentage of Americans declined vaccination — and we are sadly approaching 800,000 deaths in America due to COVID-19. In general, children fortunately fare better than adults when infected with COVID-19. But the numbers don’t seem to matter when it is your child who is affected. This is why it’s so important to vaccinate your child against COVID-19 when they are eligible and to continue following safety precautions during this pandemic.
Looking ahead to 2022, I unfortunately do not have a crystal ball and cannot reliably predict what will be in store for us next year. It’s been so hard to predict this pandemic, especially due to the variants that continue to emerge due to vaccine inequity and high vaccine hesitancy in many parts of the world.
Such whiplash can make this storm hard to navigate. The recent rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations for children 5 years and older brought new hope for so many families. But with the Omicron variant, its increased rate of reinfections and unknown consequences, many families felt like they could finally breathe — only to be sucker-punched yet again.
However, we are not starting from scratch with this Omicron variant. We have vaccines, boosters, face masks, monoclonal antibodies, better hospital treatments, and a vast amount of scientific knowledge that we didn’t have a year ago. Experts predict that vaccinations will still protect against severe disease, hospitalizations, and death very well, which is what is most important. We are most certainly not starting from square one!
While there is still much that is unknown regarding the Omicron variant, what we do know is that we need to keep doing all the things we were already doing to protect ourselves and others. Here are a few tips to take into 2022!
Please fully vaccinate your whole family, including those 5 years and older. Those who are eligible should receive their booster shots, especially in the setting of Omicron, cold weather, and the holidays. Preliminary evidence is showing that boosters will likely help protect against severe disease with COVID-19, including the Omicron variant.
Please continue to mask indoors — I would recommend wearing non-cloth masks and double-masking in crowded areas for extra protection, even if you are vaccinated. As Omicron rises in prevalence, vaccines may struggle more to control transmission and while they are almost certain to protect from the worst outcomes of infection, it is not yet clear whether they may be able to prevent milder disease and transmission.
Try to engage in outdoor activities whenever possible. Use outdoor heaters if needed. If gathering indoors in a private setting, ventilate the area by opening windows and using air purifiers. If everyone is vaccinated at the gathering, masking can be decided on an individual basis considering risk level and who you live with. However, please feel free to mask yourself or your kids anytime if it makes you more comfortable!
Try to minimize travel, if at all possible. Unfortunately, air travel is a high risk activity due to crowded airports/airplanes.
Test frequently — especially before and after travel/events even if you don’t have any symptoms. Testing at the slightest hint of symptoms is also recommended (such as a runny nose).
If you have children younger than 5 years old or immunocompromised/chronically ill family members, please try to be careful with whom you see. Try to meet with only those who are fully vaccinated and ideally boosted. It’s important to cocoon our vulnerable ones as best as possible before they can get vaccinated.
On top of all of this, others in your family may not be on the same page as you regarding following safety precautions. Holidays are an especially difficult time to navigate these conversations. As a pediatrician, I want to let you know that it is ok to say “no” to anything you are uncomfortable with. You can decline an invitation to a large indoor party or to seeing your unvaccinated aunt or uncle. You have to do what is best for your family, and everyone else needs to respect that decision. Finding ways to bond safely may not be “traditional,” but can still be meaningful and loving.
Lastly, you’ve got this. This pandemic is a marathon — one of the longest marathons we have had to endure. We are all exhausted. I have spoken to countless parents and caregivers throughout this pandemic — and they are feeling the same exact way! We are all just putting one foot in front of the other and taking it a day at a time. I am proud of you, and I know you can do this. You are not alone: we are all in this together and together we will triumph. Wishing you a happy and safe holiday season!
—Dr. Risa Hoshino