SEATTLE (AP) – The spike in COVID-19 cases in the United States, driven by the omicron variant, is sending children to hospitals in near-record numbers, and experts lament that most children are not vaccinated.
“It’s very heartbreaking,” said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious disease expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It was very tough last year, but now we know that there is a way to avoid all this.”
During the week of December 21-27, an average of 334 children aged 17 and younger were hospitalized daily with coronavirus, representing a 58% increase over the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease Prevention (CDC).
The previous peak recorded over the course of the pandemic was in early September, when hospitalizations for children averaged 342 a day, according to the CDC.
On a more hopeful side, children still make up a small percentage of people hospitalized with COVID-19: An average of more than 9,400 people of all ages were admitted during the same week in December. And many doctors noted that hospitalized children are currently less ill than those who arrived during the delta-driven rally in the summer.
Two months after the COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for use in children ages 5 to 11, about 14% are fully protected, according to CDC data. The rate is highest among minors between the ages of 12 and 17, at 53%.
In many cases, the problem is the timing, said Dr. Albert Ko, a professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the Yale School of Public Health. The youngest children did not receive approval for the vaccine until November, and many of them are just getting the second dose, he noted.
Offit said none of the vaccinated children who received care at her hospital a week ago had been inoculated, even though two-thirds had underlying conditions that put them at risk, either from chronic lung disease or, more commonly, obesity. Only one was under the age of five, the minimum age to be vaccinated against the disease.
And the situation is heartbreaking.
“They have trouble breathing, they cough and cough,” Offit said. “And a handful were sent to the intensive care unit to be sedated. We put a device down their throats that is connected to a respirator, and the parents are crying. “
Neither parent or sibling is vaccinated, he added.
The next four to six weeks are going to be tough, he noted.
“This is a virus that thrives in winter,” he said.