The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. James Versalovic that aired on Sunday, September 12, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: We are going to go now to Dr. James Versalovic, the pediatrician-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital. Good morning to you.
DR. JAMES VERSALOVIC: Good morning, MARGARET.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So 25% of new infections in this country are among children for the people that you are taking care of. How are they getting infected? What are you seeing in your hospital with these kids?
DR. VERSALOVIC: Well, we’re seeing record numbers here at Texas Children’s throughout Texas, and of course, as the story unfolds across the country, it’s not just a regional problem, but a national problem. We’ve seen a record 750,000 plus more than three quarters of a million children infected since early August through early September. We’re seeing that play out here locally in one of the largest cities in the United States and the largest children’s hospital in the USA. The reality is that we have seen record numbers of children hospitalized during this Delta surge. We have seen record numbers of cases reported by the day by the week. We continue to be on a high plateau and the reality is that we may be headed to another peak or to another valley if we all pull together.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Earlier in the program, we spoke with a former FDA commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who was predicting that you could potentially see a vaccine by Halloween that’s available for kids five to 11. Do you agree with that timeline? Do you recommend to parents that when it’s available, they give it to their child?
DR. VERSALOVIC: Yes, we certainly are aiming for that timeline in October of this year to have the data here put together at Texas Children’s as we continue to work with children. We are well into phase two-three, working with leading children’s hospitals across the country and partners such as Pfizer and Moderna. That is our goal, October. 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 in the form of vaccines for children under 12.
MARGARET BRENNAN: For parents, what do they need to look for in their children? Are you seeing these infections develop in the form of some of these syndromes, like MIS-C? Is this a respiratory infection of COVID? Who is ending up sick in your hospitals right now? And how sick are they?
DR. VERSALOVIC: Well, in addition to prevention, MARGARET, we need to continue to emphasize to all parents and families the importance of timely diagnosis through testing. Once the child is displaying symptoms, respiratory symptoms that could be consistent with COVID, COVID pneumonia, fever 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. We know how to treat children at this point in the pandemic. We know that the vast majority of these cases, more than 98% 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’s 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.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Ok.
DR. VERSALOVIC: So, we need to continue to remind parents, too, that beyond the acute infection, we could have MIS-C three to six weeks after infection. We are seeing a spike of MIS-C today.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Doctor, good luck to you and thank you very much for your analysis. We’ll be right back in a moment.