Hospitalizations of US children under the age of 5 with COVID-19 rose to their highest level in recent weeks, according to government data released Friday on the only age group Which is not yet eligible for vaccine.
Dr. Rochelle Valensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the worrying trend among children too young to be vaccinated underscores the need for older children and adults to get their shots to protect those around them.
Since mid-December, as the highly contagious Omicron variant has spread rapidly across the country, the hospitalization rate among these youngest children has increased from 2.5 per 100,000 youth to more than 4.
That compares with the current rate per 100,000 for children ages 5 to 17, according to CDC data.
Valensky said in a statement that while children still have the lowest rates of hospitalization of any age group, “pediatric hospitalizations are at their highest rates compared to any prior point in the pandemic.”
At a briefing, she said the numbers included children hospitalized due to COVID-19 and children admitted for other reasons but found infected.
She notes that more than 50% of children ages 12 to 18 are fully vaccinated and only 16% of children 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated.
As of Tuesday, the average number of children and adolescents hospitalized per day with COVID-19 stood at 766, more than double the figure reported two weeks ago.
At a White House briefing this week, America’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said that many children hospitalized with COVID-19 have other health conditions that make them more vulnerable to complications from the virus. Including obesity, diabetes and lung disease.
Fauci and Valensky emphasize that one of the best ways to protect the youngest children is to vaccinate everyone else.
Data suggest that booster shots offer the best protection against omicrons, and the CDC this week recommended them for children under the age of 12. At an already eligible older age, only 34% have received them.
Hospitalization only adds to parents’ concerns about how to keep their babies and toddlers safe.
Emily Hojara and Ellie Zilke of Sawyer, Michigan, are extra-protective of their daughter, Flora, who turns 2 in May. They limit her contact with other children, and no visitors are allowed in the home unless masked, not even grandparents.
“It’s been a struggle, and now with this new version, I think it has knocked us back,” Hojara said. She said the new hospitalization data “just reminds you that anxiety is really getting closer.”
“It’s scary that she can’t be vaccinated,” Hojara said of her daughter.
Dr. Jennifer Kusma, a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, said she has seen an increase in the number of children hospitalized with Omicron, and while most are not critically ill, she understands the concerns of parents. .
“As a pediatrician, I really wish we already had that vaccine for these little kids,” Kusama said. But he said what may seem like a long wait should reassure parents that vaccine trials are not being rushed.
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 it did for young people between the ages of 2 and 4.
Pfizer’s study has been updated to allow less than one-third of all doses given at 5, and the data are expected to begin in the spring.
Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner at @LindseyTanner.
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