From the Journals

Minorities bear brunt of pediatric COVID-19 cases



Black and Hispanic children comprised significantly more cases of COVID-19, compared with White children, based on data from a large, cross-sectional study of 1,000 cases.

“Data regarding disparities in SARS-CoV-2 infection and outcomes have been, thus far, mostly limited to adults,” wrote Monika K. Goyal, MD, of Children’s National Hospital, Washington, and colleagues. “Additional data further suggest that low socioeconomic status may further exacerbate health outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities.”

In a study published in Pediatrics, the researchers conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 1,000 children from a registry of non–acutely ill pediatric patients seen at a drive-through and walk-up COVID-19 test site.

Minority, socioeconomic status affect pediatric outcomes too

Overall, 207 (21%) of the children tested positive for COVID-19; of these 46% were Hispanic, 30% were non-Hispanic Black, and 7% were non-Hispanic White. The median age of the study population was 8 years, and approximately half were male.

The researchers also examined the association of median family income (MFI) using census block group estimates data from the American Community Survey (2014–2018) to represent socioeconomic status.

Infection rates were significantly higher among children in the lowest three quartiles of MFI (24%, 27%, and 38% for quartiles 3, 2, and 1, respectively), compared with the highest quartile of MFI (9%).

After adjusting for age, sex, and MFI, Hispanic children were six times more likely and non-Hispanic Black children were twice as likely to test positive for COVID-19 than non-Hispanic White children (adjusted odds ratios, 6.3 and 2.3, respectively).

The study findings were limited by several factors including the use of clinician-reported ethnicity and thus potential for misclassification, the researchers noted. In addition, the socioeconomic and racial disparities may be underestimated because these groups have less access to primary care, and the study did not allow for confounding variables including housing conditions or occupancy.

“Although it was beyond the scope of this study to understand the causes for these differential rates of infection, the causes may be multifactorial, including, but not limited to, structural factors, poorer access to health care, limited resources, and bias and discrimination,” the researchers noted. In addition, the high infection rate among minority children may be impacted by parents who are less able to telework, find child care, or avoid public transportation, Dr. Goyal and associates wrote.

Future research should address “the modifiable reasons for these observed disparities as well as their differential impact in terms of SARS-CoV-2–related morbidity and mortality outcomes to mitigate the spread of infection and its health effects,” they concluded.

How to help

“This study is important because we need to understand which groups of children are at highest risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection in order to maximize efforts for screening, allocating resources, and prioritizing vaccine administration,” Karalyn Kinsella, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in Cheshire, Conn., said in an interview.

Dr. Kinsella said she was not surprised at the higher infection rates in general in minorities and low socioeconomic groups. “We already knew that adult COVID-19 rates were higher for people in certain racial/ethnic groups and those with socioeconomic disadvantages; however, I was shocked by the percentages. That is a huge burden for a population that already has disparities in health outcomes.”

“As the authors cite, this was not a research study of why these groups were more likely to be COVID-19 positive, but they speculated that crowded living conditions, multigenerational families living together, and many minorities being essential workers unable to work from home,” said Dr. Kinsella. Additional factors contributing to higher infection rates may include limited access to care, transportation issues, insurance coverage, schedule challenges, and fear of deportation. Some of these problems might be addressed by coming into communities in mobile vans, visiting community health centers and schools with free educational materials, using masks and hand sanitizer, and offering free access to testing.

“Future studies could confirm the cause of this discrepancy, as well as study community-based interventions and their outcomes,” Dr. Kinsella said. In the meantime, a take-home message for clinicians is the need to prioritize screening, resources, and vaccines to reflect the higher rates of SARS-CoV-2 infections in children from disadvantaged racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose, but lead author Dr. Goyal is a member of the Pediatrics editorial board. Dr. Kinsella had no financial conflicts to disclose, but serves on the Pediatric News editorial advisory board.

SOURCE: Goyal MK et al. Pediatrics. 2020 Sep 24. doi: 10.1542/peds.2020-009951.

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