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Hospitalization rates of infants under 6 months with COVID increased during the omicron period this year and were second only to people ages 65 years and older, a new study found.
“These findings underscore the continued risk for COVID-19-associated hospitalization among infants aged <6 months, who are ineligible for vaccination,” authors wrote in a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. They also encouraged vaccination for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.
The team, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), studied hospitalization rates among infants under 6 months in 13 states. Hospitalization among infants under 6 months with COVID during the omicron BA.2/BA.5 period (mid-March 2022 through August 2022) rose from 2.2 per 100,000 infants in April to 26 per 100,000 infants in late July.
These infants were hospitalized at a mean weekly rate of 13.7 per 100,000 during the omicron BA.2/BA.5 period compared to 8.3 per 100,000 during the delta period (mid-June 2021 to mid-December 2021). However, indicators of severity such as length of hospital stay and the proportion of hospitalizations requiring intensive care or mechanical ventilation were lower during the omicron period than during delta.
The hospitalization rate among infants under 6 months of 13.7 per 100,000 was lower than adults 75 years and older (39.4 per 100,000) but was similar to the rate for people ages 65-74 years (13.8 per 100,000). It was higher than any other pediatric age group as well as adults ages 18-64 years.
Authors said the high hospitalization rates for infants could be due to high levels of community spread during the omicron period. They also acknowledged hospitalization is more likely to be recommended for vulnerable infants than older children. Other age groups may have seen lower hospitalization rates due to vaccination and/or previous infections.
About 84% of infants under 6 months hospitalized with COVID during the omicron BA.2/BA.5 period had symptoms. Most infants ages 1-5 months had a fever upon admission. About 26% of infants ages 1-2 months hospitalized with COVID and 36% of those 3-5 months had at least one underlying condition, most frequently prematurity.
Studies have shown vaccination during pregnancy is safe and that women can pass antibodies to their infants that reduce the risk of hospitalization.
“Pregnant women should stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccination to help protect themselves and infants too young to be vaccinated,” authors wrote. “Nonpharmaceutical measures should be used to help protect infants ineligible for vaccination.”