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Young child hospitalizations rose 5-fold during the Omicron surge versus Delta. But a CDC report found a silver lining

March 18, 2022, 12:46 AM UTC

Hospitalizations of young children with COVID-19 were five times higher during the Omicron’s peak than during Delta’s—and nearly six times higher for infants younger than 6 months, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

But those hospitalizations during Omicron’s peak were, on average, shorter, and fewer young children required ICU admission when compared to Delta’s peak, the report found.

Of children ages 0-4, nearly 15 children per 100,000 were hospitalized with COVID from mid-December through mid-February—prime time for Omicron—up from nearly three children per 100,000 late June through mid-December, when the Delta variant was more prominent, according to the CDC’s weekly morbidity and mortality report.

But there was a silver lining, according to the report: Hospitalizations among young children were typically a half day shorter, and 6% fewer young children required ICU admission, when the peak period of Omicron is compared to that of Delta.

Though the proportion of hospitalized young children requiring ICU admission was lower during Omicron’s peak than during Delta’s, overall, more children required ICU hospitalization during Omicron’s peak due to the prevalence of the disease, the report stated.

Most—63%—young children hospitalized during Omicron’s peak had no underlying medical conditions, and nearly half—44%—were under 6 months of age, according to the report, which did not find that severity increased with age among ages 0-4.

Peak rates of hospitalization of young children with COVID—a demographic not yet eligible for vaccination—illustrate the importance of preventing the pandemic among society’s smallest, the report stated, recommending that those frequently around young children be vaccinated. Evidence exists that fetuses can receive COVID antibodies acquired via vaccination of their mothers, the report added, encouraging women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or who might become pregnant to stay up-to-date with their COVID vaccines.

The CDC’s report joins a growing body of evidence that Omicron, among hospitalized patients, is typically less severe among hospitalized patients than Delta is. Hospital admissions of children under 1, as a proportion of hospitalizations of children of all ages, rose steeply during Omicron’s period of predominance, The British Medical Journal reported in January, increasing by roughly 10% to 12% from phases in the pandemic when other variants dominated.

But children under 1 with Omicron are typically less sick, requiring oxygen at roughly half the rate of children hospitalized during the first wave of the pandemic. The rates of other interventions were down too, including admission to the ICU, the need for ventilators, and the length of hospital stay, the publication reported.

Similarly, a March 13 report published to research site medRxiv found that Omicron infections were typically less severe than Delta among hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Norway. The report found that Omicron patients required ICU admission at approximately half the rate of Delta patients and were typically hospitalized for a shorter period, among those ages 18-79 who had been vaccinated at least once.

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