COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Missouri's new health director said Thursday that the delta variant of the coronavirus is affecting children more than the alpha variant and should be treated as an entirely new disease.
Donald Kauerauf, named director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, met with reporters via video call Thursday to talk about COVID-19 and other issues. It was the first media event of his tenure.
In the early days of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that children were less likely to get sick with and spread COVID-19, but a recent study shows that hospitalizations among children with COVID rose nearly fivefold between June and August. Kauerauf said the newer delta variant needs to be approached differently than other variants.
"They're treating COVID as a singular disease," Kauerauf said. "The way I look at is that really, the COVID from 2020 and the COVID from today are two different variants. Delta variant is vastly different than the alpha variant in its transmissibility incubation period."
The delta variant became the dominant strain of the virus in Missouri and nationwide this summer thanks to its increased ability to jump from person to person. Doctors say they're treating younger patients with COVID-19 since the delta variant emerged.
Missouri has recorded nearly 660,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic started and more than 137,000 probable cases, according to state data. The state is averaging more than 1,700 new cases per day.
Kauerauf said the most effective way to prevent the spread of any variant of COVID is the vaccine. The FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine for people ages 16 and older, and the CDC authorized it for emergency use for people 12 to 15 years old.
"We need to treat the delta as its own disease, and we need to look at what those factors are," Kauerauf said. "We know that vaccinations provide protection from the delta variant."
Despite pleading from health officials, more than half of Missourians remain unvaccinated. President Joe Biden's administration is working on a vaccine mandate for large employers, but Republican leaders in Missouri are working to stop that effort.
Kauerauf said he knows a lot of Missourians are still hesitant to get vaccinated. As the new public health director, Kauerauf said his mission is to educate people rather than create mandates.
"It's not about the mandate, for us it's about making sure that we are getting the right information out," Kauerauf said.