Over a million children under 18 have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the United States since the start of the pandemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association said Monday.
"As of Nov 12, a total of 1,039,464 children have tested positive for Covid-19 since the onset of the pandemic. In the one-week period ending Nov 12, there were 111,946 new cases in children, which is substantially larger than any previous week in the pandemic," the groups said in a joint statement.
"The increase tracks surges in the virus in communities across the US," they added.
"As a pediatrician who has practiced medicine for over three decades, I find this number staggering and tragic," said Dr. Sally Goza, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents pediatricians. "We haven't seen a virus flash through our communities in this way since before we had vaccines for measles and polio."
Because most children appear to have few or no symptoms, case counts in kids are thought to be widely underreported.
Goza called for "a new, nationwide strategy to control the pandemic," which she said should include implementing "proven public health measures like mask wearing and physical distancing."
"This pandemic is taking a heavy toll on children, families and communities, as well as on physicians and other front-line medical teams. We must work now to restore confidence in our public health and scientific agencies, create fiscal relief for families and pediatricians alike, and support the systems that support children and families such as our schools, mental health care, and nutrition assistance."
At the same time, about one in five children in the US had a "vaccine hesitant" parent last year, according to new data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Parental concerns over vaccine safety have contributed to several major outbreaks of preventable diseases, including the 2019 measles outbreak in the US -- the largest number of cases in 27 years. It was largely driven by parents in Washington state and New York who failed to follow childhood vaccine guidelines.
Outbreaks in the US of mumps and pertussis, also known as whooping cough, have also occurred in recent years due to a lack of basic childhood immunizations, according to the CDC, which notes that too few children get flu vaccines every year. Only about 63% of children under the age of 18 get vaccinated against flu, although the CDC says everyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu vaccine every year.
Public health officials worry that vaccine hesitancy will reduce the willingness of parents to allow their children to be vaccinated against Covid-19 when a safe and effective vaccine becomes available.
Studies have shown children of all ages are likely to contribute to the spread coronavirus, and the statistics released Monday indicated children make up a large number of US cases.