Kids “can either get vaccinated or you can get Delta,” says Hawaii state epidemiologist


Nicole Pasia


Hawaii Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble set the record straight Wednesday on how the Delta variant and COVID-19 vaccines affect Hawaii’s keiki, especially as kids return to in-person learning. Dr. Natasha Ching, a pediatric disease specialist at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, joined Dr. Kemble during a panel discussion, hosted by Civil Beat. 


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Dr. Kemble said the age group with the highest new case rate in the state was kids aged 0-17 in the last few weeks. While the number of child hospitalizations is higher than in previous surges, Dr. Kemble said the overall severity of cases has decreased. So far, one child death under the age of 10 has occurred in the state. 


Image: Hawaii Department of Health


Dr. Ching said a major concern among her staff is the isolation that some children experience while hospitalized.

“Due to the COVID-19 disease that spread throughout the household, sometimes there are children that may have family members that are hospitalized at the same time that they are. And that’s really heartbreaking for our clinical staff, our respiratory therapists, [and] our nurses because those kids are by themselves in the room.”

With kids back in school, Dr. Kemble noted the COVID mitigation efforts employed to reduce infection spread in classrooms, including mask-wearing, stay-home-when-sick policies, and employing ventilation systems. She said the protocols have been highly effective:

“When we see that layered mitigation strategies — as we’ve been recommending — if those are implemented, we actually see very little transmission on school campuses … a lot of the infection we are seeing arises in the household, or activities that happened outside of the school setting with friends and family.”

Both doctors emphasized that kids should continue to get vaccinated, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 and up in May.  According to Dr. Kemble, almost 65% of adolescents in Hawaii are fully vaccinated as of Oct. 13. 

“What we’re seeing with Delta is basically, you have a choice: You can either get vaccinated or you can get Delta … it’s also about the potential of [kids] transmitting it to family and the anxiety that can cause.”

Dr. Ching said  building trust and open communication with the community is key to increasing vaccination rates across the state. 

“Everyone has a different risk benefit of what they can and cannot do, what they’re worried about. We want people to feel comfortable getting the vaccine.” 

The Department of Health has worked in conjunction with various community partners to educate and inform residents about the vaccine, particularly Native Hawaiians and other underserved communities. Civil Beat will host another upcoming panel in November that specifically focuses on leveraging health equity during COVID.