Within weeks, the Omicron variant sparked thousands of new Covid hospital admissions for U.S. children, raising new concerns about how many unvaccinated Americans under the age of 18 will fare with the new surge, Reuters reports.
The average seven-day number of daily hospitalizations for children between December 21 and 27 rose more than 58% to 334 nationwide over the past week, compared to about 19% for all ages, US data Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Show. Fewer than 25% of 74 million Americans under the age of 18 are vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Omicron cases in the US are expected to increase even faster as schools reopen next week after the winter break, experts warned.
Doctors say it’s too early to determine if Omicron causes more severe illness in children than other coronavirus variants, but that its extremely high transmittability is a key factor driving hospital stays high.
“It will infect more people and it will infect more people. We saw the numbers go up, we saw the hospital admissions of children go up, ”said Dr. Jennifer Nayak, Infectious Disease Expert and Pediatrician at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
What we are seeing is that children under the age of five remain unvaccinated, so there are still a relatively large number of naive children who do not have pre-existing immunity to this virus.
Even in New York City, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, only about 40% of 5 to 17 year olds are fully vaccinated, compared with more than 80% of adults, city health data shows.
There is no approved vaccine for US children under the age of five.
NYC hospital admissions for people ages 18 and younger increased from 22 in the week of December 5 to 109 between December 19 and 23. Children under five made up almost half of the total cases.
Hospital admissions for people under the age of 18 across the state were 184 on December 19 and 23, compared with 70 on December 5 and 11.
The number of cases in children is also increasing in other parts of the country. Ohio Has seen hospital admissions for children under the age of 17 increase by 125% over the past four weeks, according to data from the Ohio Hospital Association.
Florida, New Jersey and Illinois have seen the seven-day average daily hospital stays of underage patients with the coronavirus at least double over the past week, CDC data shows.
Young children have far lower vaccination rates than other age groups, and some families are reluctant to introduce a new vaccine to their youngest members.
Fewer than 15% of US children, ages 5-11, have been fully vaccinated since Pfizer / BioNTech vaccination for that age group was approved in late October, federal data shows.
Doctors said the more severe Covid symptoms they are seeing in hospitalized children this month include difficulty breathing, high fever and dehydration.
“They need help with breathing, they need help with oxygen consumption, they need extra fluids. You’re sick enough to end up in the hospital and that’s scary for doctors and scary for parents, ”said Rebecca Madan, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at New York University’s Langone Health Hospital.
The surge in cases occurred when schools closed for the winter vacation. Prior to the vacation, more than a thousand classrooms were either wholly or partially quarantined due to outbreaks, according to New York City. The city announced that it would open schools for about a million children on January 3, as planned, after the district’s winter break.
Research has shown that a significant proportion of transmission between children occurs outside of schools. However, Madan and others anticipate a fresh spike in the number of children from holiday events who could disrupt class attendance.
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