Guest Host: Mikaela Lefrak

Dr. Leana Wen is  the former health commissioner of Baltimore, a Washington Post columnist and CNN medical analyst.

Dr. Leana Wen is the former health commissioner of Baltimore, a Washington Post columnist and CNN medical analyst.

Kojo For Kids welcomes Dr. Leana Wen to the show on Monday, February 8 at 12:30. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.

It’s a tough time for kids. Most of them are stuck at home, missing school, friends and activities that now seem like distant memories. And it’s all because of a hard-to-understand virus that is puzzling even to their parents.

But we’ve got an empathetic expert to help kids get a grasp on this coronavirus and how to best protect themselves. Dr. Leana Wen is an emergency room physician with a gift for explaining complex health issues in a way that everyone can understand. We’ll start with the basics — what’s a virus? — and cover everything from mask-wearing to herd immunity to coping with the frustrations of pandemic life.

We also welcome the students of Cooper Lane Elementary School in Landover Hills, Maryland, our school of the week. We know they’ll have questions for Dr. Wen, but we’re taking your questions too — if you’re a kid!

This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!

Produced by Lauren Markoe


  • Dr. Leana Wen Emergency Physician, Washington Post Columnist, Visiting Professor, George Washington School of Public Health; @DrLeanaWen


  • 12:32:15

    MIKAELA LEFRAKWelcome back. I'm Mikaela Lefrak, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. It has been a tough year. Most kids have been separated from other kids, their teachers and even their grandparents. They've missed birthday parties, trips to the movies, and all kinds of other fun things, and it's all because of a virus. Some kids even know people who have gotten sick from coronavirus.

  • 12:32:38

    MIKAELA LEFRAKToday we've got a wonderful and caring doctor who knows a lot about that virus and what you can do to keep yourself and other people around you healthy. Dr. Leana Wen is here to answer your questions about everything from masks to vaccines to going back to school. We also want to welcome the students from Cooper Lane Elementary School in Landover Hills, Maryland, our school of the week. Welcome kids. We're excited to hear their questions for Dr. Wen and your questions, too, but only if you're a kid. Adults are always welcome to listen, but on Kojo for Kids, it is kids' calls only. Dr. Wen, welcome to Kojo for Kids.

  • 12:33:18

    DR. LEANA WENI am so thrilled to join you. As the mom of two little kids -- although one of them is a baby, so maybe she won't be listening to Kojo for Kids just yet --(laugh) but I am thrilled to be joining you.

  • 12:33:29

    LEFRAKGreat. Well, we'll get to the virus in a minute, but first, we want to learn a little bit more about you. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

  • 12:33:37

    WENWell, I was born in Shanghai, China. When I was seven, actually just before I turned eight, my parents and I came, together, to the U.S. We initially lived in a little town in the mountains of Utah, which was a very different experience moving from a large city in Shanghai of 20-some million people to a town in the mountains of Utah of several thousand people. But I lived there for a few years, and then we moved to Los Angeles. And I mainly grew up in Southern California.

  • 12:34:09

    LEFRAKAll right. And what was it like moving from China to the U.S.? I imagine that must've been a really big change for you.

  • 12:34:18

    WENWell, I didn't speak English, and so that was certainly the biggest change, that I came to a new country and had to learn a new language. But we were very fortunate to be with so many people who really embraced us and appreciated us. I mean, it just was -- I cannot describe to you what it was like.

  • 12:34:39

    WENI mean, when we first arrived, it was in the middle of the winter. We came in December. And we landed in this town in the mountains of Utah that was very cold. And we didn't have any clothing that was appropriate for the winter, and actually had trouble -- we couldn't afford heating, and so turned the heat to very low. So, I was freezing all the time.

  • 12:34:56

    WENI showed up to school, walking in the snow without snow boots or anything that was appropriate for the snow, and everything was totally wet. And my classmates must've seen this, because that weekend, we had a bag that was just left outside our door. And people from our local church had actually gotten together and put all their -- they had donated all kinds of clothes and blankets and shoes for our family. And I just will never forget how we felt at that time, of the community coming together for people who didn't look like them, who didn't even speak their language. But they were so, so kind to us.

  • 12:35:34

    LEFRAKAnd now you have a job where you also helped the community. You're a doctor. You're a doctor of emergency medicine. And we have a couple questions coming in from kids about your job. So, let's go first to Hailey. She's eight years old, from Bethesda, Maryland. Hailey, you are on the air.

  • 12:35:53

    HAILEYGood afternoon, Dr. Wen. My name is Hailey. I am eight years old, and I attend Cooper Lane Elementary School, and I am in Mr. Cobb's class. And my question for you is, how do I become a doctor?

  • 12:36:12

    WENAw, that's such a great question, Hailey. I'm so glad that you're interested in potentially becoming a doctor. And I suspect that maybe Mr. Cobb has something to do with your interest in science, too. So, what you need to do to become a doctor, it takes a long time, but it is something that many people end up doing who really are passionate about taking care of patients in times of difficulty, when people are sick and not feeling well.

  • 12:36:47

    WENThat's why I wanted to be a doctor, because I knew -- actually, when I was about your age, I had very bad asthma, and I knew what it was like to not feel well and be struggling to breathe. And I thought that I wanted to be a doctor, because I wanted to help other kids who are not feeling so good in a time when they're scared, to be able to help them feel better.

  • 12:37:12

    WENSo, what you need to do is you need to do well in school and study science, because science and -- not just science. Science is one of the things you should study, but definitely study science, because medicine is definitely based on science. And so, then you end up going to college and you finish medical school, which is more years of studying. And then you end up practicing medicine and getting your medical training. So, a lot of years, but I feel very fortunate and very blessed to have been able to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a doctor.

  • 12:37:47

    LEFRAKNow, we have lots of questions from kids coming in about the coronavirus, about the vaccine. But before we get to them, let's all get on the same page, here. What is the coronavirus, and how is it different from the flu or a common cold?

  • 12:38:05

    WENGreat question. So, maybe we'll even back up one more step and talk about what a virus itself is. A virus is a germ. It is really tiny, so you can't see it by looking at it. And when a virus gets inside your body, it can make you sick. And so, when we talk about different types of viruses, cold viruses actually -- the coronavirus or COVID-19 is this particular -- is the disease caused by this particular coronavirus that we hear a lot about. There are other coronaviruses that cause the common cold. And then influenza is a virus that causes the flu. And so, these are all the different types of viruses.

  • 12:38:45

    WENWhat makes this particular virus so worrisome is that people who get it sometimes could become very, very sick, and maybe even sicker than when they get a regular cold or the flu. And they may -- they have a higher likelihood of ending up in the hospital, especially if they are older or have underlying medical issues.

  • 12:39:09

    WENAnd so that's why we talk so much about the things that we can do to prevent from getting this coronavirus, like washing our hands, doing things like wearing a mask, keeping your distance from others. That also helps to prevent the spread, because viruses spread from person to person. And also, those are all the things that we can do to protect from getting coronavirus and giving it to others.

  • 12:39:32

    LEFRAKNow, Ronya, who's nine years old from Great Falls, Virginia has been very patiently waiting on the line for a while, now. Ronya, it is your turn. What's your question?

  • 12:39:42

    RONYAMy question is, when do you think children will be vaccinated?

  • 12:39:50

    WENRonya, it's a great question. It depends on the age of the child. One of the vaccines that's been authorized so far, made by Phizer BioNTech, the company, is already able to be given to people 16 and older. The other vaccines are currently being studied in the slightly younger age group. So, what happens is, when vaccines are first developed, they're first developed for adults. Then they are studied for progressively younger age groups.

  • 12:40:20

    WENSo, let's say that they're first studied for 16 to 18 -- or 12- to 18-year-olds. Then they're studied for, let's say, 5- to 12-year-olds. And then they're studied for toddlers, and then they're studied for babies, last. So, you get younger and younger once you make sure that it's safe and it works for that older age group.

  • 12:40:39

    WENI would expect, at the rate that we're going, that school children, kids who are of school age, probably will be vaccinated by late summer, ideally before they go back to school in the fall. Toddlers and babies are going to be last. Something that I think about a lot as I have a 10-month-old baby and a three-and-a-half-year-old toddler. So, the toddler probably will be vaccinated, I hope, sometime late summer. And by that time, the baby is going to be a toddler, so maybe he'll be able to be vaccinated then, too.

  • 12:41:08

    LEFRAKGreat. Now, we have a question here from Nelah. She's eight years old in Arlington, Virginia. You are on the air. One second. Let's make sure we...

  • 12:41:21

    NELAH(unintelligible) and my question is, have you ever had a patient that you did not know how to help?

  • 12:41:33

    WENIt's a very difficult -- that's a very good and very difficult question. I think it depends on what we mean by help, as in I think, so many times, what we think about in medicine is the medical things that we do, the pills that we might give or the tests that we give. Sometimes what patients need goes beyond the medical, and I'll give you an example of this.

  • 12:41:58

    WENI once had a patient, a young boy, who came to the ER all the time because of asthma. Now, I had asthma, as a child. I certainly know how to treat asthma. You give inhalers. Sometimes you do a nebulizer mask. Sometimes you have to give steroids. We know, medically, what to do. But the reason he was in the ER all the time was that there were other things that were making him ill, too.

  • 12:42:22

    WENHe and his mother were living in a place where people around them smoked. And, actually, that smoking was triggering the asthma. They were also living in a building where, around them, people had mold in their homes. And so even though their house was fine, they were breathing in all that mold that was also making his asthma worse. And I certainly felt very helpless at that time, because while I could give him the medicines, I couldn't do so much about these other conditions in his home that actually were making him ill.

  • 12:42:54

    WENActually, that's why, in addition to working in ER, I also work in public health, because it's in public health that we have this broader understanding of what contributes to someone's health. It's not just about the medical care they receive, but all the other conditions in their lives, too.

  • 12:43:11

    LEFRAKThat's right. And, Dr. Wen, I'm sure you went to school for a long, long time to learn everything that you have learned about how to treat different illnesses. Now, we have a question from Carla. She's seven years old, from Cooper Lane Elementary School. Carla, go ahead.

  • 12:43:27

    CARLAOkay. So, I was talking about -- the question I had before that, but -- so I have no -- my parents are not home, so that's why I have to use my grandma's phone.

  • 12:43:44

    LEFRAKOkay. Do you have any questions for Dr. Wen about coronavirus or about being safe?

  • 12:43:53


  • 12:43:54

    LEFRAKOkay. Well, thanks so much for listening, Carla. All right. Well, let's go to Leam. He's eight-years-old at Cooper Union. Leam, you are on the air. Oops, hold on one second, Leam.

  • 12:44:13


  • 12:44:13

    LEFRAKHi, Leam. You're on the air.

  • 12:44:17


  • 12:44:17

    LEFRAK(laugh) What's your question?

  • 12:44:20

    LEAMMy question is, will there be a vaccine for kids?

  • 12:44:26

    LEFRAKWell, Dr. Wen, let's -- yeah, let's talk about this again, because I bet a lot of kids still have more questions about this. They know a vaccine is coming, but they want to know when they can go back to school.

  • 12:44:38

    WENLeam, I certainly understand why people are so eager to get the vaccine. And so, to your question, there will be vaccines for children. And I think, based on how we're doing with the research -- because the vaccines have to also be studied for children before they're given to children -- I think there will be vaccines for children before the next school year. So, probably this summer will be when children can be vaccinated, too.

  • 12:45:10

    WENNow, a lot of children are already back in school. Some other children are not yet back, but will be able to come back, probably. And that will also depend not only on the vaccine, but also on the other types of measures that are put into place in the schools.

  • 12:45:27

    WENSo, for example, making sure that everyone is wearing masks. That's really important, because we know that how this coronavirus is transmitted is through droplets, through contact. And so, if you're close to somebody, somebody is coughing or sneezing, you could transmit coronavirus that way.

  • 12:45:46

    WENWe even know that just by breathing, if you're very close to somebody and somebody's breathing or speaking, the virus could be carried on tiny little droplets. And that's why wearing masks and keeping some type of distance is really important. And so, I think that even as schools come back, it will be important to follow your teacher's instructions and make sure to follow your parents' instructions, too, about keeping safe.

  • 12:46:10

    LEFRAKAll right. Let's go to Ana. She's eight years old, from Cooper Lane Elementary School. Ana, you are on the air. What's your question?

  • 12:46:18

    ANAMy question is, what do doctors do to be safe from the coronavirus?

  • 12:46:32

    LEFRAKThat's a great question. What do doctors do to stay safe from coronavirus, Dr. Wen?

  • 12:46:38

    WENAna, I appreciate your question and certainly just want to use this opportunity, too, to thank all of the healthcare workers who have been doing so much in this time. Nurses, respiratory therapists, EMTs, all the essential workers, as well. We're also talking about police officers and firefighters and people who work in our grocery stores and bus drivers. I mean, it's a very long list of people who had to be working during this time to help all of us in society.

  • 12:47:10

    WENWhat has been able to keep people safe, or relatively safe, one major thing is wearing masks. Wearing masks, we know, protect other people from us. If we are sick and don't know that we're sick, it also protects us from other people. In particular, because with coronavirus, you could be asymptomatic, meaning that you don't know that you're sick. You're certainly not trying to infect other people, but you could be carrying the virus. And so that's why -- for all of us to think, hey, I could -- maybe I want to prevent others from catching my illness, if I have it. And I certainly want to protect myself. Wearing masks is a very important component that's keeping people safe.

  • 12:47:51

    WENI would say something else, too, is being aware even when we are around people who do not live in our household. So, that's the reason why your parents may be saying to you, don't get together with people -- with your friends indoors, for example, for now, because keeping away from others and making sure that we're sticking to our own household is also a very important way of keeping safe, too.

  • 12:48:18

    LEFRAKGreat. Now, I think there are some kids out there who might have some questions about what it is like if you do get coronavirus. Now, we have Mauricio, who's eight years old, on the line from Cooper Lane Elementary School. Mauricio, what is your question?

  • 12:48:36

    MAURICIOWhat does the COVID-19 do to the body?

  • 12:48:40

    LEFRAKDr. Wen, what does COVID-19 do to the body, if you do get it?

  • 12:48:45

    WENYeah, so it's a really good question, Mauricio. And what happens is that this is a respirator virus. So, it's something that can be transmitted through the respiratory route when you cough, you sneeze, you breathe, etcetera. And then that virus also then goes into your lungs if you do end up getting infected by it. Now, the good news is, in particular for children, that the majority of people who get coronavirus have pretty mild symptoms, meaning that it might feel to you like a bad cold or the flu. So, you might have coughing, you might have some wheezing, some fever, just overall not feeling very well.

  • 12:49:24

    WENSome people also report that they lose their sense of smell and taste, which is very uncomfortable, because we're used to smelling and tasting. If you can't taste your food, that's not something that you're used to. The good news is, especially for children, that most people end up feeling better within about a week or so just as if they have the cold or the flu.

  • 12:49:48

    WENNow, some people may become more ill and then may need to go to their doctor. Sometimes they may need to stay in the hospital in order to get further care and treatment.

  • 12:50:00

    LEFRAKGreat. Now, I have a question, Dr. Wen. The vaccines are given to us in a shot, but I know that some kids and adults just hate shots. My husband is one of these people. He gets so scared when he has to get a shot that he has to lie down and look away. So, what should kids or adults do if they are really scared about getting a vaccine shot?

  • 12:50:24

    WENIt's a very good question. I would say that for right now, the only way that the vaccine is going to be given to you is with a shot, is with the injection. I know that there have been, for example, flu vaccines that sometimes could be given through the nose, as a mist. But, to my knowledge, that is not being developed for coronavirus yet. And so, I think that it might help if you think about something else while you're getting the vaccine. If you look away, start singing a song that you really like. Maybe somebody can read a book to you that you really like. Maybe you could talk on the phone with a friend, something to keep your mind off of the shot.

  • 12:51:09

    WENNow, I will say that, as the mom of a baby, I've taken my baby in to get a lot of shots, because babies get a lot of vaccinations. And sometimes I also think about, well, if my little baby is able to get all these vaccines, (laugh) then I should be able to, too.

  • 12:51:25

    LEFRAK(laugh) Now, let's go to Zara. She's eight years old, also from Cooper Lane Elementary School. Zara, you are on the air.

  • 12:51:35

    ZARAThank you.

  • 12:51:37

    LEFRAKWhat's your question?

  • 12:51:40

    ZARAMy question was, how is it like to be a doctor -- what is it like to be a doctor, I mean?

  • 12:51:48

    WENDr. Wen, what's your day-to-day job like?

  • 12:51:53

    WENWell, right now, I do a combination of many different things. I see patients, and so I help my patients who have questions, who are not feeling well. I see a lot of patients, also, who may have had family members who have had coronavirus and I also help them with thinking through how they can prevent giving it to others and their family, for example.

  • 12:52:19

    WENI also teach students, and that's something that I really enjoy, because a lot of my work is also helping medical students and helping public health students in their education. And a lot of my work, too, is correcting information that may not be correct (laugh) about coronavirus. And so, I think that, for me, a lot of my work is around this idea of public health, that we may not have thought about public health a lot before. But now we're also seeing what happens when we don't really consider public health.

  • 12:52:58

    WENI mean, some things like we talked about, like masking, physical distancing, they're not things that you really learn about in medical school. They are these other factors that what we can see in a time of pandemics really make a big difference in helping people to stay safe.

  • 12:53:14

    LEFRAKGreat. Now, we have a question here from Cooper who is 12 years old, from Silver Spring, Maryland. Cooper, you're on the air. What's your question?

  • 12:53:25

    COOPERHi. So, I play soccer, and while we're warming up for the game and while we're on the bench, we are required to wear a mask. But while playing the game and on the field, we are not. Is that safe? Do they need to change the rules? Or I'd just like to know.

  • 12:53:44

    LEFRAKYeah, great question, Cooper. Dr. Wen, what would you say about that?

  • 12:53:48

    WENYeah, it's a very good question. And as I'm thinking about how soccer is played, I mean, the good thing is I would imagine you're playing outdoors. So, that's good, because being outdoors versus indoors really reduces the likelihood of transmitting coronavirus, because there's so much fresh air that's circulating. The thing is, though, I would think when you're playing soccer, you are going to be within close distance to some others. Maybe not all the time, but people are passing you, you're fighting over the ball. And so, you are within six feet of other people.

  • 12:54:21

    WENSo, the guidance that we give is, you should be wearing a mask, even when you're outdoors, when you cannot keep within six feet away from others. And so, I would hope that that's the kind of guidance that could be given, including for our children and consistently throughout, especially as we're still in the middle of the pandemic.

  • 12:54:42

    LEFRAKGreat. Yeah, so we know a lot of kids around here have been starting to play sports again. And I bet they've been really missing them, but also really want to stay safe, at the same time. We have Colby on the line right now, who has also very patiently been waiting for us. Hold on one second. Let's make sure we have the right line up. Let's see. Okay, Colby, you are nine-and-a-half years old from Washington, D.C., and you are on the air. What's your question?

  • 12:55:10

    COLBYHow many variants of COVID are there?

  • 12:55:15

    WENAn excellent question, Colby. So, there are a lot of variants, and let me explain what this means. This is a virus, the virus that causes COVID-19. And there are mutations that are occurring all the time. A variant or a strain is when there are a certain pattern of mutations. And then that develops into a new type of variant. It's still COVID-19, but it's just a different type of it.

  • 12:55:42

    WENAnd so, right now, the main variant that we're looking at are the variants that come from -- that were first detected in the UK, in South Africa and Brazil. Those have certain characteristics that make them particularly concerning. For example, they might spread more easily, but there are, actually, a lot of other variants that are also there, but they might have characteristics that are more similar to the variants that we've had all along.

  • 12:56:10

    LEFRAKAll right. Thank you, Colby, for that question. And then last, but not least, we just have a couple seconds left, but what advice would you give, Dr. Wen, for kids who are really tired of being at home and want to be back to school?

  • 12:56:24

    WENWell, I would say it's not for so much longer. I know it feels like we've been in this for so long, but we now have the vaccines, at least for adults, that are very effective. Hopefully, they'll be available of children soon. We need to hang in there for a little bit longer, continue to keep safe and know that you're keeping safe for yourselves and your loved ones, but also for your classmates and those around you, too. So, hopefully, you'll be back in school soon. Keep safe, until then.

  • 12:56:52

    LEFRAKThat is all for the show today. Thanks to all the kids who called in, and for Dr. Leana Wen for joining us. Today's first segment with Dr. Wen was produced by Julie Depenbrock. And Kojo for Kids was produced by Lauren Markoe.

  • 12:57:04

    LEFRAKComing up tomorrow, Amazon just released the design for its future HQ2. We'll look at what the proposed modern glass helix would mean for Arlington's skyline. Then we'll talk about local politics and satire. I'm Mikaela Lefrak, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks for listening.

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows