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SAN DIEGO – As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, the number of children getting infected with the much more contagious delta variant is rising along with it.

Children 11 and under still aren’t eligible for a vaccine, but public health officials say one could be coming for 6- to 12-year-olds, possibly as early as this fall. Although children appear less likely to become severely ill from COVID-19, some 4.3 million children have tested positive for the virus since the onset of the pandemic, including nearly 94,000 new cases in the past week, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Asked if children should get the vaccine when it becomes available, Dr. John Bradley, medical director of infectious disease at Rady Children’s Hospital, couldn’t be clearer.

“Of course they should,” Bradley said. “As with all of these vaccines, there is an extensive testing procedure the FDA uses for safety and efficacy. Safety is always a prime concern of the FDA for any product they authorize or approve.”

Some critics of the vaccine argue that the long-term effects are unclear.

To that, Bradley said that that vaccinations are integral to the care of children and that “virtually all of the vaccine side effects you’ll pick up in just a month or two.”

“Long-term effects, which is what you asked for, we don’t know,” he said. “I’ll be perfectly honest: there’s no biologic reason why we would expect more long-term side effects. We know in adults there’s long-term side effects of COVID and the long-haul syndrome in children appears to be less common. We’re studying that right now with the NIH so we’ll be able to define that.”

He continues: “If I was a parent, I would worry much more about the long-term effects of the virus infection than with the vaccine.”

And are unvaccinated adults endangering children? Bradley said, “Yes.”

“If you’re an unvaccinated adult, you’re susceptible to spread in the community,” he said. “When you get it, you’re putting your child at risk of getting COVID. So, we’re asking parents to get immunized so that there’s no chance of spreading it to their kids.

“Just as importantly when kids go back to school, even though they’re wearing masks in the classrooms, once they get out of the classrooms and walking to school, walking after school, walking out on the playground, it’s going to be tough to enforce the masks, especially in older kids who aren’t eligible for the vaccine.”