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A child gets a Covid-19 vaccine dose

Five-year-old Madelyn Mirzaian is comforted by her mother, pediatrician Dr. Christine Mirzaian, after receiving the children's dose of the Pfizer Vaccine at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles on November 3, 2021. (Photo: Al Seib: Los Angeles Times via Getty Images).

Fast-Spreading Omicron Variant Drives Up Pediatric Hospitalizations in Parts of US

Pediatric units in hospitals in New York, Pennyslvania, Ohio, and Texas have been hit hard this month.

Julia Conley

With the fast-spreading Omicron variant now driving new Covid-19 cases up in the United States, public health officials are warning that just as South Africa did in early December, the country is seeing a surge in pediatric hospitalizations related to the disease.

The New York Department of Health reported Thursday that Covid-19 hospitalizations among children under the age of 18 began increasing four-fold the week of December 5 through the current week.

No child between the ages of five and 11 who was admitted to a hospital with Covid-19 over that period was vaccinated, the department said, and only a third of the children over age 11 had received a vaccine.

With children under age five ineligible for vaccination, officials warned families in New York that the best protection for very young children "is to ensure all those around them are fully protected through vaccination, boosters, proper mask-wearing, crowd avoidance, and testing."

Along with New York, Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania have been hit hard by pediatric hospitalizations. Nationwide, about 800 new hospital admissions of children have been reported every day for the past three days.

Nearly 2,000 pediatric patients with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases were hospitalized nationally as of Thursday—a 31% increase over 10 days, according to The Washington Post.

Data out of the United Kingdom also showed that as of December 19, hospital admissions were at 3.64 per 100,000 for children up to the age of four—three times the rate for children ages five to 14, who are eligible for vaccination.

The data follows reports from South Africa earlier this month, which showed that in Gauteng province as of the first week in December, patients under the age of five were the second largest group being admitted to hospitals, after patients over the age of 60.

As the Post reported on Wednesday, South Africa's wave of infections from the Omicron variant appears to be waning, giving some hope to public health experts elsewhere. 

Among children in the U.S., "the vast majority of cases so far have been mild and look a lot like the common cold," reported the newspaper.

In the Allentown-Bethlehem area of eastern Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley Health Network pediatrics chair Dr. Nathan Hagstrom told the Post that "hospitalizations of children are double what they were at the previous peak last winter and the highest of the pandemic, but they still represent a small fraction of all those infected."

Scientists at the University of Texas released a report this week predicting that Omicron cases in the U.S. will likely peak in late January through early February, with daily cases slowing down by March.

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