Dr. Kelly Miller with Pediatric Partners of the Southwest, KSUT’s Sarah Flower, pediatrician and infectious disease specialist Dr. Jessica Cataldi from Children’s Hospital Colorado, and Denver pediatrician Dr. Rusha Lev.

With schools across southwest Colorado preparing to open in the coming weeks, parents’ concerns about the spread of Covid-19 and the decision to vaccinate eligible children continues to grow. In this two-part interview, KSUT’s Sarah Flower is joined by local and statewide pediatricians to discuss the Delta variant and vaccines.

KSUT will air part-two of this interview, tomorrow, August 5, during Morning Edition and All Things Considered, which will also be posted The full unedited interview will be available in tomorrow’s post.

Interview Transcription:

Sarah Flower 00:00
I’m Sarah Flower with KSUT News. Today we are joined by Dr. Rusha Lev, a general pediatrician based in Denver and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Colorado Chapter. Also joining the call is Dr. Jessica Cataldi, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist with Children’s Hospital Colorado, and Dr. Kelly Miller with Pediatric Partners of the Southwest, a pediatrician serving the region for nearly 20 years. Doctors, I’m so glad to have you all on this call to be able to talk about, firstly COVID-19 in children in general, and what this Delta variant has done. Dr. Miller, if we could start with you here locally, to talk about what you’re seeing and how this Delta variant is affecting children here in southwest Colorado.

Dr. Kelly Miller 00:48
We continue to see children in the outpatient clinic, we do not break down the variant when we see them. Some is probably sent off from a surveillance standpoint in the community. At this point, we do PCR testing to know if they’re positive or negative. And I’m fortunate to say in our regional hospital Mercy Regional Medical Center, today we’ve had one 13 year old hospitalized with COVID, during the entire pandemic. Children are affected in terms of large numbers, but in terms of hospitalizations, we’re grateful to say that what we’re seeing locally from a hospitalization or severe form of disease continues to be very low in children. I can’t say the same for the adults though.

Sarah Flower 01:34
Let’s switch over then to Dr. Cataldi. What are seeing at Children’s Hospital Colorado now today, versus what it has been in the past 18 months?

Dr. Jessica Cataldi 01:45
So like Dr. Miller said, you know, most people, if they get COVID, right now, their doctor is not going to be able to do full genomic sequencing on that virus to say, yes, you’re definitely getting the Delta variant. But as Dr. Miller said, what we have is labs who get lots and lots of COVID tests, and then over the period of a week or a month, they’ll send a certain proportion of that test for genomic sequencing. So we know Okay, about half of what’s in the community is Delta, back in June. Now in July, the end of July, going into August, we’re really close to 90% of the virus in Colorado is Delta. So at this point, it’s really pretty safe to say it’s almost all Delta. And what we know about that Delta variant is the most concerning thing is it’s more contagious. So it’s about twice as contagious as the COVID we were dealing with back in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, and that’s where we’re seeing more kids too in clinic getting sick. So this Delta virus doesn’t pick on kids, it’s not particularly worse for kids, it’s more contagious for everybody. But when you just think about the numbers, kids are the ones right now who aren’t protected by vaccine. And so we are seeing more and more kids get sick. We have unfortunately, here in Denver, where we get a lot of referrals in regionally have had kids hospitalized, and unfortunately, even a few kids have died with COVID, over this past year and a half. And we do continue to see with Delta kind of increasing hospitalizations, as the numbers of cases in the community go up

Sarah Flower 03:20
Dr. Lev, as a champion for in-person learning, I would like to go to you on this and talking about elementary aged school children returning back to school this fall, when they’re the demographic that are most vulnerable to COVID-19 as they are not eligible for the vaccine as of yet.

Dr. Rusha Lev 03:38
I personally as a mother of elementary school and two younger than elementary school kids, all of them currently ineligible for the vaccine. And as a pediatrician who cares for a lot of kids and families, I’m quite disappointed in the what I see as the lack of leadership on a state level around advocating for what I think is going to make school sustainable and safe. Kids really, and families really missed out last year, they were sort of the last to be considered and in what opened and what was prioritized. And they need to have an in-person experience, and we have good data to suggest that we can do this safely, at least prior to Delta we could with good mitigation measures and the fact that we’re not just advocating for what the CDC, the WHO, the AAP and most of the other medical and public health organizations have said we’ll make school safe and sustainable is quite frustrating. In my school district, a group of parents and myself and many of us really pushed hard on the school board and the superintendent. And we feel like we got a win in that 12 and unders will be masked, but 12 and overs have an option. And I think a lot of parents of older kids are quite concerned. I think, unfortunately, that’s the age group that we know probably spreads COVID more easily than the younger kids and there’s a big chance that there’s going to be disruption to their learning, if not worse. And so, as a chapter, we have made the decision to do a lot of micro advocacy around this in school districts among parents and professionals. And we wish that the state had decided otherwise, with some sort of more broad policy, it’s really important to say that Polis has his mind in the right place around vaccinations being the key, I think everyone would agree, the key to getting out of this pandemic, but when our vaccination rates are lagging, we need to know that in the interim, and until we can figure out ways to help people get better vaccinated, we can’t pretend that it’s not going on. And I think that’s where we are frustrated, we’re so happy to partner with the state and trying to get vaccination rates up, we’re happy to talk about it. And in the interim, we’ve got to keep kids protected, and families protected so that we can have some semblance of normalcy.

Sarah Flower 06:02
It’s reported in this area, as of this broadcast, 31% of 10 to 19 year olds, in La Plata County have been fully vaccinated. 31% in Archuleta County, of that same demographic is at 19%. On Monday, the state came out with a report saying that we would be okay if 70% of teens hit that mark. We here in Southwest Colorado have a long way to go to get kids vaccinated. Dr. Miller, what’s going to be the shift to get from 30 or 19 to 70?

Dr. Kelly Miller 06:38
I think the biggest piece now is individual conversations with families. And I think diving into that confidence in the vaccine and trust in the vaccine. And I think that’s where families have to say, what are all the steps? I mean, there’s lots of us who just jumped in and got the vaccine because we believe in this science. We know the science, we’re educated on this. We know it really wasn’t done overnight. But for the general population and lay people, it’s helping them understand and have trust and confidence in the vaccine. So how it was manufactured, how it was licensed, what safety protocols did it go through? How about the people who were administering the vaccine, the health department, the clinics, their providers, and then there’s, apart from that there’s the individual what is their cultural philosophy on vaccines or some of these systems, political, social, individual, financial, there’s so much uniqueness in these decisions. I think we’re now down into those individual conversations, which we are having, certainly in the clinic, but that’s getting a few vaccines and a few teenagers and adolescents day by day. So I’m hopeful by having these kind of conversations that can go more widespread, we can help build that trust in the vaccine, the system, the administrators, clinics, etc.

Sarah Flower 08:08
We’ve been joined today by Dr. Kelly Miller, regional pediatrician with Pediatric Partners of the Southwest, as well as Dr. Jessica Cataldi, the infectious disease specialist and pediatrician with Children’s Hospital Colorado. And lastly, Dr. Rusha Lev, general pediatrician based in Denver and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.