COVID-related hospitalizations of children have been skyrocketing in New Zealand. In Wellington, 46 are in medical centers, many of them infants and on oxygen.
Hospitals elsewhere in the country are stretching their resources, too. Playrooms are being utilized as clinical spaces with special-care baby cots, and surgeries are being delayed. Children under 12 are being asked not to visit for fear of infection.
However, none of these COVID-related hospitalizations involve children who are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus. Rather, according to The Guardian, these are victims of “immunity debt” from the lockdowns who have been hit with, among other things, respiratory syncytial virus.
“RSV is a common respiratory illness. In adults, it generally only produces very mild symptoms — but it can make young children extremely ill, or even be fatal,” The Guardian reported Thursday.
“The size and seriousness of New Zealand’s outbreak is likely being fed by what some paediatric doctors have called an ‘immunity debt’ — where people don’t develop immunity to other viruses suppressed by COVID lockdowns, causing cases to explode down the line.”
“What we’re seeing now is we’ve accumulated a whole lot of susceptible children that have missed out on exposure — so now they’re seeing it for the first time,” said epidemiologist and public health professor Michael Baker.
“If you remove that exposure for a period then you will have a bigger cohort of unexposed children, and therefore — as you can see we have happening at the moment — it can sustain a much bigger outbreak when they are eventually exposed to the virus.”
Lockdowns during the winter in New Zealand meant that, in addition to suppressing COVID, other diseases were dramatically reduced. There was a 98 percent reduction in RSV cases and a 99.9 percent reduction in cases of the flu; other sources of excess death usually seen in the winter months disappeared.
This sounds great in theory. In practice, what’s happening in Wellington and other parts of New Zealand is proof that immunity debt presents a real problem to children who were locked down for an entire year or more. Because children haven’t had normal exposure to RSV and other pathogens — chickenpox, strep throat, the flu and others — they don’t have the kind of immunity they would otherwise have.
It’s not just New Zealand, either. On June 28, The Wall Street Journal noted that the phenomenon could be observed in countries like Japan, Australia and the United States as well.
“In early June, 16-month-old Toranosuke Tsukidate came down with a common virus that caused a fever topping 106 degrees Fahrenheit,” wrote The Wall Street Journal’s Miho Inada. “The bug was spreading rapidly through his Tokyo daycare, said his mother, Miwako Tsukidate, 27, and the boy was hospitalized for oxygen treatment for a week.
“By the time Toranosuke was discharged, his mother observed the beds around him filling up with children suffering the same ailment, which is usually more common in the fall. ‘I was surprised to see how it took off so quickly, and I was also surprised to see it spreading at this time of the year,’ Ms. Tsukidate said.”
Toranosuke Tsukidate had an RSV infection as well. His pediatrician told The Wall Street Journal that toddlers up to 4 were presenting with high fevers, which he said was due to the fact they hadn’t been exposed to the virus.
In New York City’s Maimonides Children’s Hospital, there was a cluster of RSV cases coming through the pediatric infectious diseases division this spring.
The average age was down, though — only 6 months as opposed to 17 months the previous season. That’s an issue, given that the immune systems of younger babies are weaker. That meant more intensive care patients.
Dr. Rabia Agha, the director of Maimonides’ pediatric infectious diseases division, said that while the initial wave of serious infections had crested, “RSV will definitely come back and attack a larger population because last season few children got infected.”
In Australia, Perth Children’s Hospital researcher David Foley told The Wall Street Journal his country experienced similar issues with RSV during the summer months there. Foley attributed this to “an increased population that was susceptible, helping the virus to spread more easily.”
“Similar to starting a fire, the more kindling present, the easier it is for a spark to take hold and burn brightly,” Foley said.
In a study published in May, a group of French doctors warned about the rubber-band effect that immunity debt presented.
“This positive collateral effect in the short term is welcome as it prevents additional overload of the healthcare system,” wrote the doctors.
“The lack of immune stimulation … induced an ‘immunity debt’ which could have negative consequences when the pandemic is under control and [public health interventions] are lifted.
“The longer these periods of ‘viral or bacterial low-exposure’ are, the greater the likelihood of future epidemics.”
In the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that as of Wednesday, 331 people under the age of 18 have died of COVID-19. It was known early on that the disease posed little threat to minors. It also didn’t pose much of a threat to young parents; under 10,000 deaths had been recorded for those under the age of 40.
Meanwhile, we don’t know how high the cost of the immunity debt we’ve racked up in the past year-and-change will be for our children. All we know is that they’re going to be paying a price. It’s the same way they’ve paid a price in mental health, with suicides and overdoses skyrocketing. This is what the left calls keeping our kids safe.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.