COVID is significantly more lethal to kids than the flu

June 3, 2022, 2:47 PM UTC

COVID-19 is much more fatal to children than is commonly assumed.

An examination of mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that COVID killed 600 children in 2021, which is five times higher than the average number of children (120) who died of the flu each year in the 10 years leading up to the pandemic.

At the height of the Omicron outbreak, 156 children in the U.S. died in a single month, January 2022, says Dr. Jeremy Faust, Harvard University Medical School professor and physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who compiled the data.

“Since the turn of the century, there have been just seven instances in which a respiratory virus killed more than 65 children in a single month in the U.S.,” says Faust in his study. “Influenza did it twice: once during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 (which hit children harder than most realize) and once in March of 2009. COVID-19 accounts for each of the other five instances, all of which occurred between just August 2021 and January 2022.”

The study looked at children up to the age of 17, many of whom were not eligible for vaccination during parts of the pandemic. On Thursday, the White House announced children under 5 could begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations as early as June 21.

Faust challenges what he calls minimizers, who point to the death rate of elderly patients versus pediatric ones, saying comparing the two groups is akin to apples and oranges.

“You wouldn’t downplay pediatric cancer by noting that 80-year-olds die of cancer at a rate that is 541 times greater that of 8-year-olds (which, by the way, is true),” he writes. “You’d assess these groups on their own terms.”

Separate studies have shown an increase in the number of pediatric patients with long COVID as well.

“It’s a crap shoot in that even very mild or asymptomatic cases can get it,” an infectious disease specialist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., tells Fortune.

Of known respiratory viruses, Faust notes, only one—COVID-19—has ever killed more than 100 children in a month in the U.S. And it did so three times during the Delta and Omicron waves.

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