COVID hospitalizations soar among children under 5, too young to be vaccinated, amid omicron rise

The number of U.S. children under the age of 5 with COVID-19 has spiked in recent weeks to the highest level since the pandemic began, according to government data released Friday. announced Friday about the only age group not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the worrying trend in very young children has underscored the need to vaccinate older children and adults to help protect those around them. around.

Since mid-December, with the omicron variant so contagious across the country, hospitalization rates among these youngest children have increased to more than 4 per 100,000 children, up from 2.5 per 100,000.

According to CDC data, the rate in children 5 to 17 years old is about 1 in 100,000, taken from more than 250 hospitals in 14 states.

Overall, “the rate of hospitalization among children is the highest of any previous point in the pandemic,” Walensky said.

She notes that just over 50% of 12 to 18 year olds and only 16% of 5 to 11 year olds are fully immunized.

Overall hospitalization rates for children and adolescents are still lower than for other age groups. And they account for less than 5% of new daily hospital admissions on average, according to the CDC.

As of Tuesday, the average daily number of patients under the age of 18 hospitalized with COVID-19 was 766, double the number reported just two weeks ago.

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The trend in very young children is being driven by high hospitalization rates in five states: Georgia, Connecticut, Tennessee, California and Oregon, with the biggest increases in Georgia, the CDC said.

At a briefing, Walensky said the numbers included children hospitalized with COVID-19 and those hospitalized for other reasons but found to be infected.

The CDC also says this increase may be partly due to the way COVID-19 hospitalizations are determined in this age group: testing positive for the virus within 14 days of admission for any reason. .

Dr. John McGuire, chief of critical care at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said the severity of illness in children in the omicron episode appears to be lower than in the delta variant.

“Most of the kids who got COVID+ in the hospital weren’t here because of COVID-19,” said McGuire. “They’re here for other problems but happen to test positive.”

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said earlier this week that omicrons appear to cause less severe disease on a large scale, but the number of infections is large because of their ease of transmission. Its going to mean more kids will get it. infected, and a certain part of them will end up in the hospital.

Fauci also said many children hospitalized with COVID-19 have other health conditions that make them more susceptible to complications from the virus. That includes obesity, diabetes and lung disease.

Fauci and Walensky have emphasized that one of the best ways to protect young children is to immunize others.

The soaring number of hospital admissions has only added to the anxiety of some parents.

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Emily Hojara and Eli Zilke of Sawyer, Michigan, are extremely protective of their daughter Flora, who turned 2 in May. They limit her contact with other children, and no guests are allowed in the house unless wearing a mask, not even grandparents.

“It was a struggle, and now with this new variant, I feel it has knocked us back,” Hojara said.

She said of her daughter: “It’s scary that she can’t be vaccinated.

Dr. Jennifer Kusma, a pediatrician with Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, said she has seen more and more children hospitalized with omicrons, and although most don’t become seriously ill, she understands their concerns. parents.

“I really wish we had that vaccine for these young children,” said Kusma.

Many had hoped the New Year could bring a vaccine for young children, but Pfizer announced last month that two doses did not provide as much protection as hoped for in children aged 2 to 4.

The Pfizer study has been updated to give everyone under the age of 5 a third dose, and data is expected in early spring.

Also on Friday, the CDC released a report showing that the Pfizer shots appear to protect older children from developing a serious but rare COVID-19-related condition involving multiple organ inflammation. .

Of the 102 children 12 to 18 years of age admitted to the hospital with this condition, none had received two prior doses of Pfizer at least 28 days prior to needing a ventilator or other advanced support. In contrast, 40% of unvaccinated children need such treatment.

This condition, multisystem inflammatory syndrome, causes symptoms that may include persistent fever, abdominal pain, and rash. Most children recover, but 55 deaths have been reported.

A separate CDC report found that children with COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than children without the virus. Scientists are investigating why but say the virus appears to attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.


AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson contributed from Seattle.


The Associated Press Health and Science Division receives support from the Howard Hughes Health Institute’s Science Education Department. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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