SEATTLE — The omicron-fueled growth that sends COVID-19 cases to the US is putting record numbers of children in the hospital, and experts say the vast majority of young people are not vaccinated.
“It’s very heartbreaking,” said Dr. Paul Offitt, infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Last year it was tough enough, but now you know you have a way to stop it.”
During the week of December 22-28, an average of 378 children aged 17 and younger were admitted to hospitals with the coronavirus daily, a 66% increase from a week earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. .
The CDC said the previous high during the pandemic was in early September, when children’s hospitalizations averaged 342 per day.
On a more optimistic note, children continue to represent a small percentage of those hospitalized with COVID-19: an average of about 10,200 people of all ages were admitted per day during the same week in December. And many doctors say that young people seem less sick in the summer than those who come during the delta hike.
CDC data shows that two months after vaccination is approved for children ages 5 to 11, about 14% are completely safe. The rate is about 53% higher for 12- to 17-year-olds.
A study released Thursday by the CDC confirmed that serious side effects from the Pfizer vaccine are rare in children between the ages of 5 and 11. The findings were based on approximately 8 million doses given to youth in that age group.
Albert Ko, a professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the Yale School of Public Health, notes that low vaccination rates are, in part, a matter of time: Young children weren’t approved for the vaccine until November, and many only Now on to his second dose.
Offit said that about a week ago none of the vaccinated children in his hospital care had been vaccinated, even though two-thirds had underlying conditions that put them at risk — either chronic lung disease. Or more commonly obesity. Only one had a vaccination age below 5 years.
The scenes are heart breaking.
“They are struggling to breathe, cough, cough, cough,” Offit said. “History was sent to ICU for sedation. We put an attachment to their neck which is connected to a ventilator, and the parents are crying.”
He said none of the parents or siblings had been vaccinated.
The next four to six weeks are going to be tough, he said: “This is a virus that thrives in winter.”
Aria Shapiro, 6, spent her 12th day at Phoenix Children’s Hospital on Thursday. She tested positive for COVID-19 after receiving her first dose of vaccine on December 17.
Aria, who is considered “medically critical” because she has epilepsy, suffered prolonged seizures in the hospital, and at one point had to have a breathing tube inserted into her neck, although her condition has since improved.
Her mother, Sarah Shapiro, said, “We lived our lives for two years trying to prevent him from getting COVID, eventually went in for waxes, and one thing we didn’t want to do happened.” “There was not enough time for his body to make antibodies. He finally got COVID. ,
Overall, new COVID-19 cases among Americans of all ages have reached an all-time high on record: an average of 300,000 per day, or 2 1/2 times the figure just two weeks ago. The highly contagious Omicron accounted for 59% of new cases last week, according to the CDC.
Still, there are early indications that the variant causes milder illness than previous versions, and that the combination of the vaccine and booster protects people from its worst effects.
In California, 80 COVID-19-infected children were hospitalized during the week of December 20-26, while 50 children were hospitalized in the last week of November, health officials said.
Seattle Children’s also reported a jump in the number of children admitted over the past week. And while they tend to be less seriously ill than people hospitalized in the summer, Dr. John McGuire cautioned that it is early in the omicron wave, and the full impact will become apparent over the next several weeks.
New York health officials have also sounded the alarm.
The number of children hospitalized per week in New York City rose from 22 to 109 between December 5 and December 24. Across New York State, it went from 70 to 184. In all, nearly 5,000 people in New York were in hospital with COVID-19.
Of New York City’s figures, Ko said, “The quadruple increase worries everyone, but it’s a small percentage.” “Children are at low risk of hospitalization, but those who do are not vaccinated.”
Dr. Al Sachetti, chief of emergency services at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, New Jersey, also said vaccinated children are handling the Omicron outbreak very well.
“It makes a big difference in how these children tolerate the disease, especially if the child has certain medical problems,” he said.
COVID-19 deaths in children have proved rare during the pandemic. As of last week, 721 people in the US had died of the disease, according to data reported to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Overall the death toll in the US is more than 800,000.
The pediatrics group said around 199,000 child COVID-19 cases were reported during the week of December 16-23. This was about 20% of the total of more than 950,000 cases reported that week.
While many of these children will recover at home, they may have contact with other people who are at much higher risk, says North Texas pediatrician Dr. Jason Terek said. He took care of a 10-year-old boy with COVID-19 who managed the disease well, but his father fell ill and died, they said.
“The death of a parent is devastating, but it is difficult to quantify the toxic stress for a young person in this situation,” he said.