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During the peak of the SARS-CoV-2 omicron variant in January, the hospitalization rate for children under 5 years was five times higher than during the delta variant peak in September, according to a new study.
Researchers analyzed data on young children from 99 counties in 14 states and published their findings Tuesday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
They found about 15 of every 100,000 children under 5 years were hospitalized with COVID at the peak of the omicron period compared to about three of every 100,000 children during the delta peak. Among infants under 6 months, the rates were 68 per 100,000 during omicron compared to 11 per 100,000 during delta.
For most patients in the study, COVID was the primary reason for hospitalization. About 37% of children hospitalized during delta or omicron had underlying conditions.
Co-infection with respiratory syncytial virus was more common during the delta period, occurring in about 20% of cases compared to 7% during omicron, researchers found.
Young children hospitalized with COVID were treated in the ICU at a higher rate during delta (27%) than during omicron (21%), according to the study. However, the rate of ICU admission among all children was 3.5 times higher during omicron due to the larger number of infections during that period. Children stayed in the hospital for about two days on average during delta and 1.5 days during omicron.
Children under 5 years are the only age group not eligible for vaccination. Both Pfizer and Moderna have been studying their COVID vaccines for young children, and have said they expect results this spring. Pfizer is studying a three-dose series after finding a two-dose series with a 3-microgram dosage did not meet non-inferiority criteria for those ages 2-4 years.
In the meantime, authors of the MMWR study said to protect young children from COVID, their family members and caregivers should be vaccinated. Pregnant women also should get vaccinated because evidence shows they can pass antibodies to their babies.
- AAP resources on becoming a vaccinator, preparing a pediatric practice for COVID-19 vaccination and getting paid
- CDC clinical considerations for administering COVID-19 vaccines
- Information from HealthyChildren.org on preparing children for a COVID-19 vaccine