More children went to the hospital and emergency room in states with lower vaccination rates, according to a new study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Children have largely been spared the worst of Covid-19 – hospitalizations and deaths are rarer for children than for adults – although recently children’s hospitals have been filling up in Covid-19 hotspots around the country.
The research published Friday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Report found that hospitalizations and emergency room visits for kids with Covid-19 increased from June to August of this year.
In the two week period in mid to late August, ER visits were 3.4 times higher in the states with the lowest vaccination rates and hospitalizations were 3.7 times higher than in states with the highest vaccination rates. The states with the lowest vaccination coverage were in the South.
“Broad, community-wide vaccination of all eligible persons is a critical component of mitigation strategies to protect pediatric populations from SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe COVID-19 illness,” the CDC-led team wrote.
And while the more highly contagious Delta variant sent more kids to the hospital with Covid-19, it was a similar proportion to the numbers who were hospitalized earlier in the pandemic, a second report found.
The team found hospitalization rates increased five-fold among children and teens and increased rapidly from late June to mid-August, coinciding with the spread of the more contagious Delta variant in the United States.
The rate of hospitalization for unvaccinated teens was 10 times higher than for those that were vaccinated. Hospitalizations were highest among kids aged up to 4, and teens 12-17.
One in four of the children who were hospitalized needed intensive care.
Since the data used for this study comes from the records of hospitalized kids, it cannot show if more kids were hospitalized just because they were exposed to more disease in their community, or if it was because the Delta variant made kids sicker.
However, the study added: “The proportions of hospitalized children and adolescents with severe disease were similar before and during the period of Delta predominance.”
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky highlighted the studies Thursday in the White House Covid-19 briefing, saying they showed children were not getting more severe disease from the Delta variant. “And although we are seeing more cases in children, and more overall cases, these studies demonstrated that there was not increased disease severity in children. Instead, more children have Covid-19 because there is more disease in the community,” she said.
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“What is clear from these data is community level vaccination coverage protects our children. As the number of Covid-19 cases increase in the community, the number of children getting sick, presenting to the emergency room and being admitted to the hospital will also increase.”
That makes it important to protect children. “Preventive measures to reduce transmission and severe outcomes in children and adolescents are critical, including vaccination, universal masking in schools, and masking by persons aged 2 years and older in other indoor public spaces and child care centers,” the CDC-led researchers wrote.