‘This is really concerning’: Boston Children’s doctor calls for more research into long COVID in kids

“All of these constellations of symptoms really need to be studied.”

An infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital is calling for more funding to support research into long COVID, particularly in kids, as the pandemic continues. 

Covid Trends:

Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at the hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, was asked Monday during an appearance on ABC News Live about recent reports spotlighting the impact of the condition on children and how parents can look out for symptoms. 

“This is really concerning and this is something that is just understudied,” Brownstein said. “We just do not have enough research into understanding long COVID. There have been 13 million kids, at least, who have had COVID throughout this pandemic, and there’s estimates [of] about 2 to 10 percent that have experienced some form of long COVID.”


The epidemiologist said that there have been up to 200 different symptoms described for long COVID in children, ranging from fatigue and brain fog to heart palpitations, stomach problems, and the loss of taste or smell. 

“All of these constellations of symptoms really need to be studied,” Brownstein said. “It’s hard, of course, for parents to identify these things. Sometimes it does go unnoticed. So I highly recommend that if any parents have concerns about their kids, please see their primary care physician or pediatrician immediately to figure out what is happening.”

At this point, with some kids appearing to be recovered from COVID and then developing symptoms again, Brownstein said it just isn’t clear how to differentiate whether the re-emerging symptoms are long COVID or potentially another illness. 

“This is why more research needs to happen,” he said. “It is possible for that child to be asymptomatic for several weeks and then get those symptoms. It’s very hard to test for. And so the science has not caught up with the impact that is happening to kids. And this is another reason why we need real funding into COVID, to sort of mitigate these impacts in our kids going forward.”


The Boston Children’s doctor said he is expecting to see another surge of coronavirus cases in the fall, likely driven by another variant that will have to be dealt with. 

And to prepare, more funding, as the White House has been pushing for, is needed, he said. 

“There’s a wide variety of areas where we know we can combat this virus, even things as basic as making masks available to the American people,” he said. “All those mitigation strategies combined put us into a place where we can live with the virus, but if we don’t invest in that capacity we’re in for a really tough fall and winter this coming year.”

Brownstein said he’s also concerned about another surge potentially happening earlier in parts of the country where not as many people have gotten their booster vaccinations and testing isn’t as robust. 

He noted that in the Northeast, which has seen an increase in cases, there has been an “uncoupling” between case rates and deaths, meaning even though the number of people contracting the virus is up, the number of people dying is dropping.


“That’s really good news,” he said. “And we’re seeing that split happen in the Northeast because we have a lot of boosting and we have a lot of testing. My worry is in the South where there’s less vaccination, less boosting, less testing, that will be a problem as we see this BA.2 variant come. So I am somewhat worried about a surge this summer in other parts of the country.”

Even with that pattern that other experts have pointed to as encouraging, Brownstein said there still should be concern about the increase in cases and how it could impact severe illness. The increase in cases being seen now, he said, is the “convergence” of relaxing restrictions, masking, and the more contagious subvariant of BA.2, which he said is 30 to 80 percent more transmissible than omicron. 

Brownstein said in particular he’s concerned for people who are unvaccinated, not boosted, and those who are immunocompromised and cannot mount a significant immune response to the vaccine. 

“I think overall we’re somewhat lax now because we’re doing these home tests; we don’t fully see the whole spectrum of what’s actually happening in the community,” he said. “And that’s a problem for potentially our health systems because once you have a lot of transmission in the community, that can lead to surges that impact our capacity. So we’re still not in a position where we can predict reliably what’s going to happen with this virus so that we can adequately prepare for what’s coming.”


Watch his full appearance below:


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