Two children died of COVID-19 in Alaska last year, death certificate review shows

The Emergency Department and Day Surgery entrance at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska health officials on Wednesday reported the state’s first COVID-19 pediatric deaths. Both Alaskans were infants from the Anchorage/Matanuska-Susitna Borough areas, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.

They’re the first COVID-19 deaths of any Alaskan under the age of 20 since the pandemic began, according to health officials.

“They were both less than 12 months old in the Southcentral region,” said the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, during a public presentation on Wednesday afternoon. “They were from a while ago but the death certificate process caught up and is now out.”

The two infant deaths occurred in 2021, according to the health department.

While hospitalizations among children have increased during the surge of the highly contagious omicron variant, it’s still very unlikely for children to die from the illness. That has been the case for other variants too, including delta.

Nationally, 1,225 people under age 18 have died of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic’s two years, according to the CDC. That’s less than 0.2% of the total number of American deaths. The two infant deaths in Alaska are out of more than 1,000 Alaskan COVID-19 deaths.

The state health department also reported six adult COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday. They occurred earlier in the pandemic but were added to the Alaska data after the state reviewed death certificates.

Health officials say reviewing death certificates is a lengthy process. (Screenshot from Department of Health and Social Services ECHO presentation on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022.)

Zink said the state has received many questions about the death certificate review process. In the presentation on Wednesday, she showed an example death certificate that listed acute respiratory distress syndrome as the immediate cause of death, and pneumonia and COVID-19 as underlying causes. That means the person first had COVID-19, then pneumonia, then acute respiratory distress, said Zink. That person’s death would be counted as a COVID-19 death in state data.

“If it says COVID-19 anywhere on here, we share it in these numbers that we share,” she said. “However, when we look at our big yearly reports, we’re really looking at that underlying cause of death. So if someone, say, has metastatic cancer and they get COVID, their underlying cause of death would be that metastatic cancer.”

This week, Pfizer requested authorization for its vaccine for children 6 months to 5 years old. Zink said while the FDA is still reviewing the data, parents can talk to their children’s doctors about the benefits and risks of vaccination.

“If you have questions about this age group, my recommendation to you is to make an appointment with your pediatrician,” she said.

The CDC recommended vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 in November. In Alaska, 24.8% of kids in that age group have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Alaska Public Media

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