COVID-19 pandemic & children: Long-term impacts warrant concern

The physical and psychological effects of the pandemic pose major threats to children’s development

By Ketan Shah
Published: Friday 24 December 2021

Illustration: Ritika Bohra The assumption that children are less likely to contract the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is not appropriate. This is evident from the fact that during the pandemic, several paediatricians tested positive for the diseases after treating asymptomatic patients. Around one in five doctors to be infected with the disease have been paediatricians.

However, it is true that the infection in children was comparatively less severe. Their recovery rate is 99.99 per cent. Hospitalisations have also been low compared to adults. However, the occurrence of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) post COVID-19 infection is a serious threat that needs attention.

Since July 2020, there has been a surge in mis-c cases all over the country. In August that year, along with guidelines to treat children with covid-19, the Indian Academy of Paediatrics also issuedrules to treat MIS-C. The protocol calls for use of intravenous immunoglobulin and steroids to treat the condition.

The exact cause for MIS-C remains unknown, however, its effects can be devastating. For instance, the first child to be diagnosed with post-covid MIS-C in Surat, Gujarat, in 2020 is still undergoing treatment due to a damaged mitral valve. Most children with mis-c develop coronary artery problems.

If it enters the bloodstream, the condition can also cause brain or pulmonary haemorrhage. In some cases, the infection has resulted in fatalities due to heart, kidney and lung failures.

Apart from physical side effects, the pandemic years have also led to behavioural changes in children. Near-complete isolation for more than two years has led them to display abnormal amounts of aggression, depression and fear.

Lack of exercise and increased access to unhealthy food has also led to weight problems, further impacting their psychological well-being.

After being away from school and other activities for a long time, transitioning back to a routine will not come easy. They will need the help and guidance of teachers, parents and doctors as they return to the post-COVID-19 world.

The trauma of losing close family members to COVID-19 will also play a role. There are already cases of children displaying heightened anxiety as they fear contracting and succumbing to the infection.

Moving forward, the point of focus now is vaccination of children. There are not enough studies to show the efficacy of COVID-19 jabs in younger populations, or how they would react with other vaccines provided for these age groups.

Therefore, they should only be provided with the belief that they can prevent severe infections. In India’s case, it is advisable to wait before rolling out a vaccination drive for children.

As told to Ravleen Kaur. Ketan Shah is paediatrician in Surat, Gujarat

Views expressed are the author's own and don't necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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