The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health estimates in a new modeling study that more than 5.2 million children globally have lost their parents or caregivers to COVID-19 through October 2021, equating to 1 child every 6 seconds.

The study found more fathers than mothers died, and adolescents were more likely to be orphaned than younger children. The study’s analysis of the data found that the number of orphaned children doubled in the six-month period of May 1st through October 31st, 2021 compared with the number after the first fourteen months of the pandemic.

Countries with the lowest vaccination rates were impacted the most dramatically, with the numbers of children affected by parental or caregiver deaths exceeding the total numbers of COVID-19 deaths in the country. Given this, the researchers suggest that solutions center around equitable vaccine delivery in countries with low vaccination rates.

The study also highlighted the impact losing a caregiver or parent has on child welfare and development. Losing a parent raises the risk a child will be institutionalized, which is associated with an increased risk of exploitation, violence, and reduced cognitive development. To avoid this, the study suggests family-based care should be prioritized, urging that national pandemic responses prioritize children impacted by a caregiver death and include immediate integration of care for children orphaned by COVID-19.

In the first Senate Finance hearing on Protecting Youth Mental Health with Surgeon General Dr. Vikek H. Murthy, Senator Lankford (R-OK) highlighted the recommendations in the Surgeon General’s Advisory for bereavement services for children who have lost parents or caregivers to COVID-19. The Senator’s point was that there is a broader need for such services, but grief support ought to be included in any mental health legislation introduced in Congress.