Children may be less likely than adults to be hospitalized with COVID-19, but a recent study found those who are still unvaccinated suffer the worst consequences of the disease compared to their vaccinated peers.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at hospitalizations in 14 states among children ages 5 to 11 throughout the pandemic.
They found that COVID-related hospitalization rates were about twice as high among unvaccinated children as among those who had been vaccinated during the omicron wave from December to February, according to the report published this week in the weekly report on agency mortality and morbidity.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 in November, but about two-thirds of the eligible population — about 18 million children — have yet to receive their first dose.
“COVID-19 is still a problem for children,” said Dr. Emily Volk, president of the College of American Pathologists. “The assumptions we had at the start that children would not be severely affected by the virus need to be reconsidered with this new data.”
The CDC report found that 87% of nearly 400 children hospitalized during the study period were unvaccinated, 30% had no underlying medical conditions, and 19% were admitted to the unit. intensive care. Children with diabetes and obesity were also more likely to have severe COVID-19.
The researchers also found stark health disparities in the data. Non-Hispanic black children accounted for about a third of COVID-associated hospitalizations in this young age group, followed by white children at 31% and Hispanic children at 19%.
It’s disconcerting that black and Latino children were among the most hospitalized group because these children also have higher rates of obesity and diabetes, said Dr. Ruth Kanthula, pediatric infectious disease specialist at MedStar Health.
“The two are linked,” she said. “As pediatricians, we need to sit down and think about how we can target these populations.”
Previous research has shown that the omicron variant is less likely to cause severe COVID-19 in healthy people than other variants. But the CDC study found that more children were hospitalized and admitted to intensive care during the omicron wave compared to the delta wave.
The study authors say this is likely because the omicron variant is more transmissible than the delta variant and has caused more infections.
“Vaccination is a very important and safe way to deal with the risk of COVID-19, but I know parents have concerns about it,” said Dr. Andrea Berry, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the medical center. from the University of Maryland.
Health experts say one of the main reasons parents haven’t vaccinated their children is because they don’t feel they need it. The perceived risk of the vaccine is greater than the risk of the disease, said Karen Ernst, program director of Voices for Vaccines, a family organization that provides parents with vaccine information for their children.
After:Pfizer COVID-19 booster provides strong immune boost in children ages 5-11, new study finds
After:Health officials warn of unusual cases of hepatitis in young children
“People make their own risk assessment around vaccines and COVID based on what they personally see or what other people around them think or believe,” she said. “But people are really terrible at assessing their own personal risk – we’re all bad at it – especially when it comes to vaccinations.”
Although the CDC study identified only about 400 hospitalizations in 14 states, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that up to 1.5% of all pediatric COVID-19 cases result in hospitalization in the States for which data is available.
On the other hand, a CDC study published in March shows that the vaccine is safe for children aged 5 to 11, reporting no serious adverse events and only mild side effects such as fatigue, headaches and fever. after administration of 8 million doses.
It is also effective. Another study by the agency found that the vaccine was 31% effective in children aged 5 to 11 against infection with the omicron variant and 74% against hospitalizations.
Health experts are also reminding parents that the sooner they can get their child vaccinated, the sooner they can get them vaccinated if government authorities make it available. A new study from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech that examined blood samples from 30 children who received a third injection showed a 36-fold increase in antibodies against the omicron variant.
“The risk of COVID is still significant,” Berry said. “And so far the risk of the vaccine is tiny.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
Coverage of patient health and safety at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial contributions.