Hospitalization of children under 5 in the US with COVID-19 has skyrocketed in recent weeks to its highest level since the start of the pandemic, according to government figures released Friday.
The alarming trend that children are too young to be vaccinated underscores the need for older children and adults to be vaccinated to protect those around them, said Dr. Rochelle Walenski, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since mid-December, when the highly contagious variant of omicron has spread violently throughout the country, the hospitalization rate for these youngest children has risen to more than 4 per 100,000 children, up from 2.5 per 100,000.
This compares to the current rate of about 1 in 100,000 children aged 5 to 17, according to the CDC.
In a statement, Walenski said that while children still have the lowest hospitalization rates of all age groups, “children’s hospitalizations are at the highest rate compared to any previous period of the pandemic.”
At the briefing, she said these numbers include children hospitalized due to COVID-19 and those hospitalized for other reasons but found to be infected.
She noted that just over 50% of children aged 12 to 18 are fully vaccinated, and only 16% of children aged 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated.
As of Tuesday, the average number of children and adolescents admitted to hospital with COVID-19 per day was 766, double the number two weeks ago.
Not a Modern Healthcare subscriber? Register Today.
At a White House briefing this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. chief infectious disease expert, said many children hospitalized with COVID-19 have other illnesses that make them more susceptible to complications from the virus. This includes obesity, diabetes, and lung disease.
Fauci and Walenski emphasized that one of the best ways to protect the smallest children is to vaccinate everyone else.
The data shows that booster shots provide the best protection against omicrons, and the CDC recommended them this week for children as young as 12 years old. Among older children already eligible for the vaccine, only 34% received them.
The surge in hospital admissions only heightens fears of parents worried about how to keep their babies and toddlers safe.
Emily Hojara and Eli Zilke of Sawyer, Michigan, are intensely protecting their daughter Flora, who will turn 2 in May. They limit her contact with other children, and visitors are not allowed into the house unless they are wearing masks, not even grandparents.
“It was a struggle, and now with this new version I feel like it has thrown us back,” said Khojara. She said the new hospitalization data “just reminds you that this anxiety hovers very close.”
“It’s scary that she cannot be vaccinated,” Khojara said about her daughter.
Dr. Jennifer Kusma, a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, said she was seeing an increase in the number of children hospitalized with the omicron, and while most of them are not serious, she understands the parents’ concerns.
“As a pediatrician, I would love to have this vaccine for these young children already,” Kusma said, but added that what may seem like a long wait should reassure parents that no one is testing the vaccine. in a hurry.
Many hoped for a vaccine for young children in the new year, but Pfizer announced last month that two doses did not offer the protection they hoped for children ages 2 to 4.
The Pfizer study has been updated to give everyone under 5 years of age a third dose, with data expected in early spring.