GT Investigates: US epidemic incompetence creates 200,000 ‘COVID orphans’ with 75% of American children infected
Published: May 11, 2022 10:16 PM
Editor's note: 

One by one, Western countries have scrapped their COVID-19 restrictions and now purport to be ready to "return to normalcy." Yet as the coronavirus continues to mutate, from the deadly Delta variant to the more contagious Omicron variant, what can such a rush to re-open really bring to the West? 

After analyzing data and talking to epidemiologists, the Global Times conducted a series of investigative reports and looked into the dire consequences of the countries' relaxed COVID-19 response on vulnerable groups, including the elderly, minorities, and children, and what impact such moves will wreak upon their medical system. This is the second installment and we delve into the shocking impact of the pandemic on adolescents and children in some countries, especially the US, after they chose to acquiesce rather than deal with the disease.

A 4-year-old girl grimaces as she's tested for COVID-19 in Whittier, California on January 25, 2022. Photo: VCG

A 4-year-old girl grimaces as she's tested for COVID-19 in Whittier, California on January 25, 2022. Photo: VCG

More than two years after the novel coronavirus disease outbreak, and behind the whopping COVID-19 death toll of more than a million in the US, there are far more shocking and heart-breaking numbers.

Whereas nearly 60 percent of Americans have been infected with COVID-19 at least once, more than 75 percent of children and adolescents in the country have been infected, according to the results of the national blood survey released by the US' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 26.

Life expectancy in the country has declined for two consecutive years since the pandemic began, while about 200,000 children in the country have become "COVID-19 orphans."

All these figures once again prove that the US, which has never reflected upon nor held any official accountable for such catastrophe, has been seeking comfort in the notion of "coexistence with the coronavirus," which is the world's top "failed mandate."

Chinese health experts noted that as a vulnerable group, the protection, treatment, and rehabilitation of adolescents and children requires the joint efforts of parents and the society.

They stressed that the Omicron variant is not a "large flu" and those countries that either chose or were forced to acquiesce in dealing with the pandemic has never walked out of the dark side of the pandemic. Data, examples, and continued calls from their own countries' health experts demonstrate that China's dynamic zero-COVID anti-epidemic strategy helped solve some of the problems that the West has been struggling with, and China's insistence on sticking to dynamic zero-COVID is the current best solution to protect human lives. 

Record numbers of hospitalized children

The number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 is soaring in the US, especially as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads across the country.

According to an NBC News analysis, at least nine states have reported record numbers of COVID-related pediatric hospitalizations. The spike in hospitalizations has frustrated pediatric infectious disease doctors on the front lines treating children sick with the coronavirus disease.

In Singapore, the Omicron strain is currently most prevalent among adolescents, whereas when the Delta strain was more virulent, it was mainly among the elderly and working adults. Currently, infection rates are highest among children aged between 5 and 11, followed by adolescents aged between 12 and 19.

According to a report from the Guardian in March, as many as 20 percent of all child deaths from COVID in the US have occurred during the Omicron surge of the pandemic.

Children seem to be facing increasing risks from COVID-19 even as mask mandates are abandoned across the country, and vaccination rates among children chart at an alarmingly low rate.

Since the beginning of 2022, 179 children have died from COVID-19 in the US, compared with 735 children in the preceding 20 months, according to the Guardian, citing data from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The figures mainly focus on children aged 0 to 17 and were gathered from around May 2020 to early March 2022.



The under-5 age group saw record-high numbers of hospitalization over the past few months. Omicron hospitalization rates for kids under the age of 5 soared five times higher during Omicron's peak compared with the Delta wave, according to recent CDC research and data analytics.

Chen Xi, an associated professor of public health at Yale University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that in the US, in addition to a significant threat to the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, novel coronavirus disease infections are also quite high among children and adolescents.

Earlier this year, public schools in the US lifted mask requirements and it is now common to see students and teachers not wearing masks on school premises. A large proportion of public schools do not conduct routine COVID-19 testing. In this case, schools become hotbeds for the spread of the virus.

Vaccines are highly effective against severe illness, hospitalization, and death among children. But less than 30 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 11 are vaccinated in the US, and a little more than half of children between 12 and 17 are vaccinated.

According to Chen, although the US FDA has approved the vaccine for children above the age of 5, the willingness of parents to have their children vaccinated is still very low. 

Research shows only about a quarter of parents in the US have had their children vaccinated against COVID-19. Almost every city in the US, except Philadelphia, requires parental consent to vaccinate children, further reducing vaccination rates among children and adolescents.

Sequelae of concerns

The cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Korea has exceeded 16.8 million, or about one-third of the population. According to South Korean media, the relaxation of COVID-19 control has not only led to infections in a large number of children, but has also triggered worries among many families about whether COVID-19 will have serious sequelae. 

According to a survey released by the Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service in April, in South Korea, 19.1 percent of 21,615 confirmed patients had visited a hospital for treatment due to sequelae.

South Korean media also paid close attention to the consequences in adolescents. Their reports showed that after the Omicron variant has quickly spread, more and more parents sought online consultations about their children's continued symptoms after contracting and recovering from COVID-19. 

Medical staff of the Sheba Medical Centre prepare rooms for reopening children's COVID-19 ward on January 11, 2022 in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan. Photo: VCG

Medical staff of the Sheba Medical Centre prepare rooms for reopening children's COVID-19 ward on January 11, 2022 in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan. Photo: VCG

Amid the panic, some media outlets called for parents to remain calm. A report published by Hankyoreh said further research is needed on whether COVID-19 is likely to cause long-term and permanent damage to children. 

There have been no reports showing that the Delta and Omicron variants would likely cause different sequelae, but the former had caused more severe infections, the newspaper said, citing a professor of infectious diseases. 

Wang Guangfa, a renowned respiratory expert who had contracted the coronavirus disease as a member of the National Health Commission's expert team in Wuhan, told the Global Times that sequelae should be treated scientifically. It is crucial to have a correct understanding of the sequelae of COVID-19. 

"First of all, it should be clear that sequela is not the disease itself, but the aftereffect of the disease. Second, we have very little research on the aftereffects of COVID-19, and we know even less about the long-term aftereffects. Therefore, we should not blindly hype the issue of sequelae, but rationally and objectively study how serious the sequelae of COVID-19 are. More scientific research is needed to give the answer," Wang said. 

Inability to reflect

In October 2021, China launched a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign for minors aged 3 to 11, in a bid to increase mass vaccination and accelerate herd immunity.

Speaking at the 2021 Summer Child Health Care Event on August 9, Wang Huaqing, a chief expert with the immunization program of the Chinese CDC, pointed out that some children showed severe symptoms after being infected with the coronavirus disease, such as those with underlying medical conditions or those who are very young. The ultimate goal now for China is to establish an immunity barrier through vaccination and children are an important part of achieving the goal. 

However, children and adolescents' lives lost in the pandemic are receiving less attention in the US as Washington turns greater attention to Wall Street numbers and geopolitical machinations. Driven by the rush to declare that COVID-19 is over, vulnerable groups trapped in the throes of the epidemic in the US appear to have been intentionally or unconsciously forgotten.

In January, UNICEF reported that more than 616 million students worldwide are still affected by COVID-related school closures, which experts worried could push the world's most vulnerable child populations into child labor. 

"The COVID-19 orphan crisis has gotten relatively little attention; it's a pandemic hidden inside a pandemic," Rachel Kidman, a social epidemiologist focused on childhood adversity at the Stony Brook University, told National Geographic, noting that COVID-19 is perceived as a disease mainly affecting older people, so the toll on children left behind is overlooked.

Chen pointed out that the pandemic is also affecting the mental health of children and adolescents, which is already a serious problem in the US today. During the pandemic, several studies showed significant increases in suicide attempts and depressive symptoms among American children.

In a latest article published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in April, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and other NIAID scientists wrote that "classical" herd immunity for COVID-19 "almost certainly is an unattainable goal." 

Chinese observers said that instead of reflecting on and drawing lessons from the pandemic, Western countries have made poor achievements. They have surrendered without hesitation. Fundamentally speaking, they have not taken human life seriously and their actions scrapped the image of "human rights defenders" that they had been grooming for years.

boy receives the COVID-19 vaccine while being held by his mother in Pennsylvania on November 6, 2021. Photo: IC

A boy receives the COVID-19 vaccine while being held by his mother in Pennsylvania on November 6, 2021. Photo: IC

Analysts noted that the failure of the US to fight the epidemic has cost one million lives, and the most fundamental problem is the government's disregard for the lives and basic interests of its people, and the vast majority of the dead are from the lower and middle class, ethnic minorities, and the underprivileged.

Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the tragedy of the US is not just in its failed pandemic response, or the sheer number of deaths, but the country's inability to govern and reflect. 

"The underlying cause of US incapacity for governance is the malpractice of its self-proclaimed two-party system. The system is fractious, inefficient, and slow to make decisions," Lü told the Global Times.

Right now, the BA.2 subvariant of the Omicron strain is accelerating its spread across the US. 

The US has entered a new phase of a localized epidemic and the situation is likely to worsen again as autumn and winter begin. The diminishing effectiveness of the vaccine over time, increased indoor activity in the fall and winter, and the constant emergence of new variants, could lead to a resurgence in the US, Chen warned.