Children in the U.S. Are Being Hospitalized With COVID-19 in Near-Record Numbers
(SEATTLE) — The Omicron-fueled surge that is sending COVID-19 cases rocketing in the U.S. is putting children in the hospital in close to record numbers, and experts lament that most of the youngsters are not vaccinated.
“It’s just so heartbreaking,” said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious-disease expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It was hard enough last year, but now you know that you have a way to prevent all this.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 334 children aged 17 and below were admitted to hospital with coronavirus each day during the week of December 21-27. This is 58% more than the previous week.
According to the CDC, in September the previous high was 342 child hospitalizations per day.
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Children continue to make up a tiny percentage of patients admitted with COVID-19. In December, an average of 9,400 children were admitted daily. Many doctors believe that the children now admitted are less sick than the ones who were there during the summer delta surge.
CDC data indicates that about 14% have been fully protected just two months after vaccines were approved to protect 5-to-11-year olds. This rate is about 53% for 12–17-year olds.
Many cases are governed by timing. Dr. Albert Ko is professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health. The vaccine was not approved for children younger than five years old until November. Many are now on the second dose.
Offit said none of the vaccine-eligible children receiving care at his hospital about a week ago had been vaccinated, even though two-thirds had underlying conditions that put them at risk — either chronic lung disease or, more commonly, obesity. One child was below the age for vaccination of 5.
It is heartbreaking.
“They’re struggling to breathe, coughing, coughing, coughing,” Offit said. “A handful were sent to the ICU to be sedated. We put the attachment down their throat that’s attached to a ventilator, and the parents are crying.”
He stated that none of his siblings or parents had been vaccinated.
The next four to six weeks are going to be rough, he said: “This is a virus that thrives in the winter.”
New cases among Americans have jumped to their highest level ever. They now average 300,000 per days, which is nearly twice the number recorded just two weeks back. According to the CDC 59% were caused by highly contagious omicron.
However, early signs suggest that this variant can cause milder illnesses than the previous ones. The booster and vaccine combination seems to be able to prevent the worst from happening.
California health officials reported that in December, 80 COVID-19-infected kids were admitted at the hospital, as opposed to 50 the previous week.
Seattle Children’s also reported a bump in the number of children admitted over the past week. While they may be less severely ill than the children who were hospitalized in summer, Dr. John McGuire warned that this is still early in the Omicron Wave and will only become evident over the coming weeks.
New York’s health officials have also raised the alarm.
Between Dec. 5th and 24th, the number of New York City children hospitalized with COVID-19 increased from 22 to 109 per week. It increased from 70 to 184. Nearly 5,000 New Yorkers were treated with COVID-19.
“A fourfold increase makes everybody jump with concern, but it’s a small percentage,” Ko said of the New York City figures. “Children have a low risk of being hospitalized, but those who do are unvaccinated.”
Doctor Al Sacchetti of Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center Camden in New Jersey said that the children who have been vaccinated are handling the outbreak very well.
“It makes a big difference in how these kids tolerate the disease, particularly if the child’s got some medical issues,” he said.
Over the span of the pandemic, deaths due to COVID-19 have been very rare in children. According to American Academy of Pediatrics data, 721 children in America had already died from the disease as of last week. In the United States, there are more than 800,000.
The pediatrics group reported that nearly 199,000 COVID-19 child cases were reported during the week of December 16-23. This represented 20% of more than 950,000 cases that were reported in the week.
Many of these kids will be able to recover in their own homes, but they could have contacts with other children who may be more at risk. Dr. Jason Terk is a North Texas pediatrician. He said that he cared for COVID-19-infected 10-year old boy who was well managed, however, his father died.
“The death of a parent is devastating, but the toxic stress for a young person in this situation is difficult to measure,” he said.