Hospitalizations of American children under five with COVID-19 have skyrocketed in recent weeks to their highest level since the start of the pandemic, according to government data on the only age group not yet eligible to the vaccine.
The disturbing trend in children too young to be vaccinated underscores the need for older children and adults to get vaccinated to protect those around them, said Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since mid-December, as the highly contagious variant of Omicron has spread furiously across the country, the hospitalization rate of these youngest children has risen to more than four per 100,000 young people, from 2.5 per 100,000.
That compares to a current rate of around one per 100,000 for children ages 5 to 17, according to CDC data released Friday.
In a statement, Walensky said that while children still have the lowest hospitalization rate of all age groups, “pediatric hospitalizations are at their highest rate compared to any time prior to the pandemic “.
During a briefing, she said the figures included children hospitalized with COVID-19 and those admitted for other reasons but found infected.
She noted that just over 50 percent of children aged 12 to 18 are fully immunized and only 16 percent of those aged 5 to 11 are fully immunized.
On Tuesday, the average number of children and adolescents admitted to hospital per day with COVID-19 was 766, double the figure reported just two weeks ago.
During a White House briefing this week, Dr.Anthony Fauci, America’s foremost infectious disease expert, said many children hospitalized with COVID-19 have other health issues that make them more susceptible to complications of the virus. This includes obesity, diabetes, and lung disease.
Fauci and Walensky stressed that one of the best ways to protect younger children is to immunize everyone.
Data suggests that booster shots offer the best protection against Omicron, and the CDC recommended them this week for children as young as 12 years old. Among older people already eligible, only 34% received them.