Boy using inhaler to illustrate allergic diseases of childhood
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States with high rates of COVID-19 vaccination saw more pediatric asthma patients get a break from their symptoms, according to new research in JAMA Network Open from Nemours Children’s Health and Endeavor Health. With each increase of 10 percentage points in COVID-19 vaccination coverage, parent-reported child asthma symptoms decreased by .36 percentage points.

“Asthma is one of the most common chronic illnesses among children in the United States, with about 4.7 million children experiencing symptoms each year,” said lead author Matthew M. Davis, MD, executive vice president, enterprise physician-in-chief and chief scientific officer of Nemours Children’s Health. He added, “Whether asthma is mild or severe, it affects children’s quality of life. So anything we can do to help kids avoid flare-ups is beneficial.”

Asthma is a chronic, incurable disease that causes bouts of inflammation in the airways that lead to shortness of breath, cough, chest tightness or pain, and wheezing. It can be controlled with preventive measures and treatment.  

It’s believed that during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020, social distancing and school closures lowered the frequency of asthma flares for many pediatric patients. Davis and coauthor Lakshmi Halasyamani, MD, chief clinical officer of Endeavor Health, wondered whether that benefit extended into 2021, as the first vaccines against COVID-19 were being widely administered to adults and then children.

In the study, Davis and Halasyamani compared the change in parent-reported childhood asthma symptoms between 2018–2019 and 2020–2021. They combined that data with state COVID-19 vaccination rates for people ages five and up in 2020-2021, as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

They found that with each increase of 10 percentage points in COVID-19 vaccination coverage, parent-reported child asthma symptoms decreased by .36 percentage points.

States in the highest quarter of COVID-19 vaccination rates overall had a decrease in asthma symptoms of 1.7 percentage points—which is almost three times more favorable than states in the lowest quarter of COVID-19 vaccination rates overall. Those saw an average decrease in asthma symptoms of only 0.6 percentage points in 2020-2021, compared with 2018–2019.

Several factors, the researchers say, could have contributed to the reduction in asthma symptoms. Community-level immunity, also called “herd immunity,” in states with higher vaccination rates may have helped reduce children’s risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing asthma complications. Another possibility is that children living in states with higher COVID-19 vaccination rates may have been more likely to get the shots sooner after they were approved. These findings also raise the possibility that COVID-19 vaccinations may have effects against other illnesses that stem from coronaviruses, including the common cold.

“Ongoing vaccination against COVID-19 may offer direct benefits for children with a history of asthma, but this must be confirmed with further research,” said Halasyamani. “It also raises the question of whether broader population-level COVID-19 vaccination among children and adults can help protect children with asthma, too.”

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