If a study conducted at one St. Louis hospital is a good indicator, the COVID pandemic is tied to a surge in childhood injuries and deaths due to firearms.
Black children and those in low-income households were at greater risk, according to the University of Missouri-led study.
“We found a significant increase in pediatric firearm injury rates during the pandemic compared to the five preceding years,” said lead study author Dr. Mary Bernardin. She is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, in Columbia, Mo.
“The escalation in injuries was driven by a significant increase in firearm assaults and homicides, as well as increased frequency of innocent children injured as bystanders amidst adult crime,” Bernardin said in a university news release.
For the study, the researchers compared records of pediatric firearm injuries treated at St. Louis Children's Hospital from March 2015 to February 2020 to those treated between March 2020 through March 2022.
In the earlier period, there were 413 pediatric firearm injuries, compared to 259 during the pandemic study period. The monthly injury rate rose 52% from an average of 6.8 shootings per month to 10.3 per month during the pandemic.
In addition, pediatric firearm deaths rose 29% during the pandemic, the investigators found.
“While Black children were the most frequently victimized both prior to and during the pandemic, there was a significant increase in Black victims during the pandemic relative to other races,” Bernadin added. “The proportion of victims having Medicaid or self-pay insurance status also significantly increased during the pandemic.”
The researchers identified three spikes during the pandemic in monthly pediatric firearm assault/homicide rates — each occurred within three months of a surge in COVID-19 deaths.
“This trend is particularly noteworthy because as surges from future COVID-19 variants are likely to occur, one may infer that these surges may be related to future spikes in firearm injuries,” Bernardin said. “This threat highlights the need for increased violence-intervention services, particularly amongst marginalized communities more likely to be seriously affected by firearm violence.”
The findings were recently published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery.
Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, St. Louis Children's Hospital and the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine also contributed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on firearm violence prevention.
SOURCE: University of Missouri-Columbia, news release, Jan. 12, 2023