Unvaccinated Kids Bore Brunt of Omicron Wave, CDC Report Says

Though omicron has been considered milder, peak ICU admission rates for children were 1.7 times as high during January.

Unvaccinated Kids Bore Brunt of Omicron Wave, CDC Report Says
A child wears a KN95 protective mask for kids. (Photographer: Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg)

Almost 90% of U.S. children hospitalized for Covid during the omicron wave this winter were unvaccinated, according to a government study.

Omicron caused a record-breaking number of pediatric hospitalizations from December to February, and national data on hundreds of kids aged 5 to 11 highlight the importance of vaccinating them, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in the report.

“Increasing vaccination coverage among children, particularly among racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately affected by Covid-19, is critical to preventing Covid-19-associated hospitalization and severe outcomes,” the CDC said. 

Though omicron has generally been considered milder than prior variants, peak intensive care unit admission rates for children were 1.7 times as high during January, when omicron reigned, than when delta peaked in October. The high rates were likely due to omicron’s enhanced spread and the sheer number of overall infections it caused, the authors said.

Almost 20% of children hospitalized during the omicron wave wound up in intensive care units. The risk of severe disease was substantially higher for those with diabetes or obesity, and just a third of hospitalized children had no underlying conditions, the report found. 

Unlike immune-impaired adults, immunocompromised kids were not found to be at higher risk of severe Covid. The finding is consistent with influenza-associated hospitalizations and could be due to a lower threshold for hospital admission in kids with asthma or other medical conditions, the authors said. 

Vaccine eligibility was expanded to include children aged 5 to 11 in November, just months before the omicron variant caused a massive surge in cases. But data from last month show just about a third of these children have received two doses. 

Black children accounted for the greatest share of the unvaccinated and more than a third of the hospitalizations during the study period. They were more likely to develop serious symptoms than white or Hispanic children, according to the report. 

“Implementing strategies that result in equitable receipt of Covid-19 vaccine among children is a public health priority,” the report said. 

Booster shots are still not authorized for kids ages 5 to 11, but partners Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE have said a third dose of their vaccine increased antibodies against the omicron strain by 36-fold in this age group. The companies plan to soon file with regulators for authorization of the booster shot.

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