Here’s why vaccinations, masks are crucial for keeping children safe

There is much confusion in our area about the new mask mandate and why adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations is critically important.

The COVID-19 delta variant is abundant throughout the Whiteside and Lee County area, and it is more contagious, more dangerous and affecting our children at higher rates than the original COVID-19 virus.

When viruses infect people, they attach to their cells, get inside the cell, and make copies of their RNA. This enables the virus to spread.

If there is a copying mistake, the RNA gets changed. Scientists call those changes mutations.

When the original virus changes enough, it is called a variant. Viruses mutate all the time, but only a few mutations become dangerous. The delta mutation is one of those variants.

What are the characteristics that made the COVID-19 delta significant enough to put us back under a mask mandate? The delta variant has a particular set of mutations in the spike protein that make it extremely effective at attaching to human cells and gaining entry.

These mutations allow the virus to stick to the human cell much easier than the original COVID-19 virus, resulting in the recipient of the infection having a much higher viral load in their nose and throat.

Because of the increased viral loads and the greater ability to stick to cells, the delta variant is much easier to spread than the original virus. Unfortunately, these same traits have made the delta variant more transmissible to children.

Both the CDC and the World Health Organization have reported significant increases in the number of children becoming sick and being hospitalized in the last few months.

“According to CDC data, the rate of new COVID hospitalizations among children has soared past the winter peak. The hospitalization rate is up by more than 11% since the previous seven-day average. The rises in pediatric COVID hospitalizations are most apparent in areas where vaccination is not widespread,” reported Dr. Walensky, director of the CDC.

Because of the COVID-19 Delta variant’s more deadly mutations, vaccinated people can catch the virus and spread it while never knowing they have it.

Many vaccinated people never will become sick, yet spreading the virus to a child who has been unable to become vaccinated can be dangerous for that child.

There is no vaccine available for children younger than 12, and it is up to the rest of society to protect our children by becoming vaccinated and masking.

Until everyone is vaccinated, children have an increased chance of contracting the virus. It has been shown in multiple studies that the largest children outbreaks come from communities with low vaccination rates.

Vaccines are crucially important for several reasons. The obvious reason is the recipient of the vaccine probably never will get the disease, and if they do, they likely will not be hospitalized or die.

A more important reason is that, until the virus can be stopped from spreading, it will continue to mutate.

The only way to stop the virus from spreading is for everyone to get vaccinated. The next COVID-19 mutation could be even deadlier, and could be a mutation that our present vaccines will not work against.

It is time for this community to step up and protect its children. Get vaccinated! Wear a mask! Be smart!

Go to The Center of Disease Control and Prevention website, fpr more information.

Beth Fiorini, Whiteside County Health Department administrator for 29 years, now retired, and her son, microbiologist Julian Fiorini.