With tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans at higher risk for severe disease from Covid-19 infections, doctors and health care facilities nationwide are reporting a rising number of young people hospitalized, some of whom are too young to receive vaccine doses.
The nation's largest pediatric hospital, Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, is reporting a more than four-fold increase in child hospitalizations from Covid-19 over the last two weeks, spurred by the spread of the Omicron and Delta variants over the holiday season.
"We have staggering numbers here from this Omicron surge already," Dr. Jim Versalovic, pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children's, said Monday. "We shattered prior records that were established during the Delta surge in August."
More than 700 children were in the hospital with Covid-19 during one 24-hour period last week, he said, and 90% of cases were shown through sequencing to have been caused by the Omicron variant.
"We are seeing more Covid now than we have seen in previous waves," said Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a primary care pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York, "and it's worrisome that the worst of the winter here has not passed, and we are bracing for what is still to come."
Noting that some children who have coronavirus may be seeking medical care for other conditions yet testing positive, Bracho-Sanchez told CNN's Anderson Cooper Monday it is evident from what she has seen in New York City that more children there have Covid-19 than ever before.
"We would be foolish to keep minimizing Covid-19 in children at this point in the pandemic," she said.
Early research suggests Omicron may cause more upper airway problems, unlike previous strains that caused lower airway problems. However, upper airway conditions can be more dangerous for children than adults.
"We cannot treat the airways of children like they are the airways of adults," she said. "It's just not the way it works. And for us pediatricians, we know that respiratory viruses can lead to ... croup and bronchiolitis, that inflammation of the upper airways that does get in children in trouble."
Versalovic said Monday of the children at their facility needing care, "It's clear that the majority of cases either have Covid-19 as a primary factor or as a significant contributing factor to their hospitalization."
Data published from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services last week showed that pediatric hospital admissions had reached a record high, eclipsing marks from the 2020 holiday surge as well as the Delta surge over the summer and fall.
Cumulative hospitalization rates through November are about eight times higher for unvaccinated adults and about 10 times higher for unvaccinated children ages 12 to 17, according to CDC data.
Children are the least vaccinated age group in the US, with around 53% of ages 12-17 fully vaccinated and those ages 5-11 far less, according to CDC data. Americans at age 18-24 are nearly 59% fully vaccinated and those ages 25-39 are at 63%.
Overall, 62% of the US population is fully vaccinated and more than 33% of those have received a booster, CDC data shows.
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