The number of U.S. children under the age of 5 with COVID-19 has spiked in recent weeks to the highest level since the pandemic began, according to government data released Friday. announced Friday about the only age group not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the worrying trend in very young children underscores the need to vaccinate older children and adults to protect those around them.
Since mid-December, when the omicron variant was highly contagious across the country, the hospitalization rate among these youngest children has increased 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 for children ages 5 to 17, according to CDC data.
In a statement, Walensky said that although children still have the lowest hospitalization rates of any age group, “the rate of hospitalization among children is the highest at any point in the past decade.” epidemic”.
At a meeting, she said the numbers included children hospitalized with COVID-19 and those hospitalized for other reasons but found to be infected.
She notes that just over 50% of 12 to 18 year olds are fully immunized and only 16% of 5 to 11 year olds are fully immunized.
As of Tuesday, the average daily number of children and adolescents hospitalized with COVID-19 was 766, double the number reported just two weeks ago.
At a White House briefing this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said many children hospitalized with COVID-19 have other health conditions that make them more susceptible complications caused by the virus. That includes obesity, diabetes and lung disease.
Fauci and Walensky have emphasized that one of the best ways to protect young children is to immunize others.
Data shows that booster shots provide the best protection against omicrons, and the CDC this week recommended them for children under 12 years of age. Of the older adults who were eligible, only 34% received the shot.
The increase in hospitalizations has only added to the concerns of worried parents about how to keep their babies and toddlers safe.
Emily Hojara and Eli Zilke of Sawyer, Michigan, are very protective of their daughter Flora, who turned 2 in May. They limit her contact with other children, and no guests are allowed in the house unless wearing a mask, not even grandparents.
“It was a struggle, and now with this new variant I feel it has knocked us back,” Hojara said. She said the new hospital admission data “just reminds you that anxiety is flying very close.”
Hojara said of her daughter: “It’s scary that she can’t get vaccinated.
Dr. Jennifer Kusma, a pediatrician with Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, said she has seen more and more children hospitalized with omicrons, and although most don’t become seriously ill, she understands their concerns. parents.
“As a pediatrician, I really wish we had that vaccine for these young kids,” Kusma said. But she added that what may seem like a long wait should reassure parents that vaccine testing must not be 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 expected in children ages 2 to 4.
The Pfizer study has been updated to give everyone under the age of 5 a third dose and data is expected in early spring.