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Teens hospitalized for COVID-19 at nearly 3 times typical flu hospitalization rate

June 4, 2021

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Adolescents have been hospitalized for COVID-19 at nearly three times the typical hospitalization rate for flu, and almost one-third required intensive care, according to a new report covering cases in 14 states.

The data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also show racial disparities in hospitalization rates and an increase in rates this spring.

“It is these findings within this publication … that force us to redouble our motivation to get our adolescents and young adults vaccinated,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., said at a news conference Thursday.

The CDC and other experts analyzed data on 12- to 17-year-olds from a COVID-19 surveillance network that spans 99 counties in 14 states. From January through March this year, 204 adolescents within the network were hospitalized with a primary reason related to COVID-19, according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. About 36% are Black and 31% are Hispanic.

Authors of the report said the findings on racial disparities are “consistent with studies showing an increased incidence of COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority populations and signifying an urgent need to ensure equitable access to vaccines for these groups.”

Roughly 71% of the hospitalized adolescents had an underlying medical condition. Obesity, chronic lung disease and neurological disorders were the most common. About 31% of the hospitalized teens were admitted to an intensive care unit, and 5% required invasive mechanical ventilation. There were no deaths.

The teen hospitalization rate from COVID-19 was almost 13 times lower than the rate for adults, but it was higher than the rate for children ages 5-11.

Despite COVID-19 prevention measures, data from October 2020 through April 2021 show adolescents were hospitalized for COVID-19 at 2.5 to three times the rate that they were hospitalized for flu during the previous three flu seasons.

The COVID-19 hospitalization rate per 100,000 adolescents peaked at 2.1 in January 2021, fell to 0.6 in mid-March and then rose to 1.3 in mid-April, according to the report. Authors said circulating variants, children returning to in-person education and relaxed preventive measures all may have contributed to the recent rise.

On Friday, Dr. Walensky again urged vaccination and adherence to mask guidelines for those who are not vaccinated.

“Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic,” she said in a news release. “I continue to see promising signs in CDC data that we are nearing the end of this pandemic in this country; however, we all have to do our part and get vaccinated to cross the finish line.”

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