Within only a few weeks from its emergence in the United States, the Omicron variant has fueled thousands of hospitalizations among children. Experts believe that this surge is mainly caused by the lower vaccination rates in this age category.
Between December 21 and December 27, the seven-day-average number of daily hospitalizations for children is up by 58 percent nationwide, compared to around 19 percent for all age groups.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than 25 percent of the 74 million Americans under 18 are vaccinated. Moreover, young children have the lowest vaccination rates, with many families hesitating to vaccinate their youngest members.
Although the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for use in children over five years of age, less than 15 percent of children between five and eleven have been fully vaccinated.
According to scientists, it is still too early to determine whether Omicron causes more severe illness in children than previous variants. However, its extremely high transmissibility is an important factor driving up hospitalizations.
“It is going to infect more people and it is infecting more people. We’ve seen numbers go up, we’ve seen hospitalizations in kids go up,” said Dr. Jennifer Nayak, an infectious disease expert and pediatrician at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
“What we are seeing is that children under five remain unvaccinated so there’s still a relatively large population of children who are naive, so they have no preexisting immunity to this virus.”
“The virus has just been able to outsmart, penetrate beyond, what it is the parents have done to shelter those children,” said William Schaffner, a leading infectious disease expert from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Unfortunately, many doctors reported more severe symptoms in hospitalized children this month, including high fever, difficulty breathing, and dehydration.
“They need help breathing, they need help getting oxygen, they need extra hydration. They are sick enough to end up in the hospital, and that’s scary for doctors, and it’s scary for parents,” said Rebecca Madan, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the New York University’s Langone Health hospital system.
Scientists expect the number of cases and hospitalizations to rise even more after the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holiday gatherings, and the return to schools next week.