(CNSNews.com) - "The reality is that we have seen record numbers of children hospitalized during this delta surge," Dr. James Versalovic, the chief pediatrician at Texas Children's Hospital told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.
He blamed the contagious delta variant for the increase in pediatric cases, but deaths among children age 17 and under remain very low -- 412, or 0.063 percent of all COVID-involved deaths, according to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Versalovic said many children admitted to the hospital with COVID have underlying conditions:
We know how to treat children at this point in the pandemic. We know that the vast majority of these cases, more than 98 percent now, are due to the delta variant, highly contagious, but we are able to take care of these children in a hospital-based setting.
We know that there are children with underlying medical conditions that are putting them at greater risk for severe COVID pneumonia, such as obesity, Down syndrome, diabetes, pulmonary conditions. But we do have medications to treat children. We want to keep children out of the hospital.
And the reality is, timely diagnosis is key. If a child needs hospital-based care, we do all we can to keep them out of the pediatric ICU. The reality is that children may need ICU-based care, and we're seeing that today. We're seeing infections throughout every age group, infants and very young children, school-aged children, and unvaccinated teenagers are getting hit hard now. We're seeing that impact during this surge more than ever.
Dr. Versalovic emphasized the importance of timely testing:
"Once a child is displaying symptoms, respiratory symptoms that could be consistent with COVID, COVID pneumonia, fever, it could be shortness of breath, other symptoms, we need to make sure that child gets tested. That -- if that child has a known exposure, getting timely testing is so pivotal. It's the only way we can make an accurate diagnosis. And then triage the care appropriately, decide whether that child needs hospital-based care."
Aside from COVID infection, parents should be aware of MIS-C, the doctor said: "Three to six weeks after infection, we are seeing a spike of MIS-C today."
According to the CDC, "Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. We do not yet know what causes MIS-C. However, we know that many children with MIS-C had the virus that causes COVID-19, or had been around someone with COVID-19. MIS-C can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition have gotten better with medical care."
The doctor estimated that a vaccine may be available for children ages 5-11 sometime in October, and Texas Children's Hospital is among those working on clinical trials:
"We are doing everything we can now to move these trials ahead, and they're moving ahead well. Children are getting a different dosage, but it's safe and effective.
"Thus far we are on track, and I certainly would agree with Dr. Gottlieb that we are doing all we can to get vaccines to children in the fall. In the meantime, use masking and other measures to keep our children safe and reassure parents that help is on the way and the form of vaccines for children under 12."