The Omicron variant of COVID-19 led to children age 4 years and younger being hospitalized at a rate that was five times higher than that seen during the peak of the Delta variant-fueled surge. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
March 15 (UPI) -- The Omicron variant of COVID-19 led to children age 4 years and younger being hospitalized at a rate that was five times higher than that seen during the peak of the Delta variant-fueled surge, according to data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the Omicron surge, from Dec. 19 to Feb. 21, the hospitalization rate for children age 4 years and younger peaked at 14.5 per 100,000 people in the general population, the data showed.
At its peak during the Delta surge last summer, the hospitalization for people in this age group was 2.9 per 100,000 in the general population, the agency said.
Monthly intensive care unit admission rates were approximately 3.5 times as high for young children during the Omicron peak in January, at 10.6 per 100,000 people in the general population, as during the Delta predominance peak in September, when it was three per 100,000, it said.
Of the children hospitalized during the Omicron surge, 63% had no underlying medical conditions that increased their risk for severe COVID-19, according to the CDC.
In addition, 44% of those hospitalized were age 6 months or less, the CDC said.
"The proportion of hospitalized infants and children with severe illness during all variant periods of predominance, coupled with the potential for longer-term [complications including multisystem inflammatory syndrome, highlight the importance of preventing COVID-19 among infants and children," the agency researchers wrote.
The CDC reported a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations among children in January.
Only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for use in people age 16 years and younger, though it is still not cleared for those age 4 and younger.
The company is still seeking Food and Drug Administration approval of the shot for this younger age group.
However, evidence suggests that infants age 6 months and younger "can receive protection through passive transplacental transfer of maternal antibodies acquired through vaccination," the CDC researchers wrote.
"CDC recommends that women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to become pregnant or might become pregnant get vaccinated and stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccination," they said.
In addition, recently released data suggests the shot may provide children ages 5 to 11 years with less protection against infection and severe illness.
The findings of the latest CDC report on child hospitalizations are based on data from 99 counties in 14 states, the agency said.
They suggest that hospitalizations in those age 4 years and younger peaked in early January and had dropped significantly by mid-February.
"Throughout the pandemic, infants aged 6 months [and younger] have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 at higher rates than have infants and children aged 6 months to 4 years," the CDC researchers wrote.