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A new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 87% of children ages 5-11 years hospitalized with COVID-19 during the first few months of the omicron variant’s predominance were unvaccinated.
From Dec. 19, 2021, to Feb. 28, 2022, hospitalization rates among children ages 5-11 years who were unvaccinated were twice as high as rates of those who were vaccinated (19.1 per 100,000 vs. 9.2 per 100,000), researchers found. The findings were published Tuesday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
Among 397 hospitalized children, 33% had no underlying medical conditions, and 19% were admitted to an intensive care unit. None of the vaccinated children who were hospitalized required a high degree of support for breathing, such as nasal oxygen, bilevel positive airway pressure/continuous positive airway pressure or mechanical ventilation.
Non-Hispanic Black children represented the largest group of unvaccinated children at 34%, followed by White (31%) and Hispanic (19%) children. Children with diabetes and obesity were more likely to experience severe COVID-19.
Study authors said the data show the need to increase vaccination coverage among this age group, particularly among racial and ethnic minority groups who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Researchers reviewed data from the COVID-19-Associated Hospitalization Surveillance Network (COVID-NET), which conducts population-based surveillance for laboratory-confirmed COVID-19-associated hospitalizations in 99 counties across 14 states. They described characteristics of 1,475 children ages 5-11 hospitalized from March 2020 through February 2022.
By late December 2021, the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 became the predominant strain in the United States, coinciding with a rapid increase in COVID-19-associated hospitalizations among all age groups. During the omicron-predominant period, weekly hospitalization rates of children ages 5-11 years peaked at 2.8 per 100,000 during the week ending Jan. 22, 2022. The rate was 2.3 times higher than the peak during the delta-predominant period (1.2 per 100,000).
The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 years on Oct. 29, 2021, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended the vaccine for this age group on Nov. 2, 2021. As of April 15, 28.2% of U.S. children ages 5-11 years were fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
The authors noted that the study’s findings may not be generalizable because COVID-NET areas represent only about 10% of the U.S. population. Other study limitations include the potential for missed COVID-related hospitalizations due to testing practices and availability, partially vaccinated children being grouped with unvaccinated children and the possibility that medical charts did not list underlying conditions.