COVID-19 hospitalizations among children rise to record levels

Some kids 4 and under, who aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated, are showing up in hospitals. CDC director Rochelle Walensky urged parents to get their kids vaccinated.

More children are requiring hospitalization for COVID-19 than ever before, according to new data from the federal government.

While those under 18 are still the least likely age group to require hospital treatment, more kids are now showing up in hospitals, said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Pediatric hospitalizations are at the highest rate compared to any prior point in the pandemic,” Walensky said in a news briefing Friday.

Even small children are requiring hospital treatment at higher rates, she said.

“Sadly, we are seeing the rates of hospitalization increasing for children 0 to 4, children who are not yet currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccination,” Walensky said.

Children must be at least 5 years old to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. This week, the CDC authorized the COVID-19 booster shots for kids 12-15. Until this week, the minimum age for a booster was 16.

Among children who are old enough to be vaccinated, the COVID-19 shots are proving to be effective at preventing serious illness, Walensky said. Unvaccinated kids between the ages of 12-17 were 11 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who have had the shots, she said.

“For those children who are eligible, I strongly encourage parents to get their children vaccinated,” Walensky said.

She also urged Americans to get vaccinated to help protect those under 5, since they aren't eligible for the COVID-19 shots yet.

“It’s critically important that we surround them with people who are vaccinated to provide them protection,” she said.

About 54% of kids who are 12-17 have been fully vaccinated. Only about 16% of kids 5-11 are fully vaccinated.

It’s unclear if Omicron is more severe in kids or if children are just seeing greater exposure due to the fact that children are less likely to be vaccinated, Walensky said.

In the briefing, Walensky said children were being hospitalized due to COVID-19, but she said some children are being treated at the hospital for other reasons and testing positive for the coronavirus.

In the week ending Jan. 1, there were 4.3 COVID-19 associated hospitalizations per 100,000 in kids 0 to 4, according to CDC data. Among children 5-17, there were 1.1 COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000.

Those 50 and older have higher hospitalization rates. For those 50-64, the hospitalization rate is 7.3 per 100,000. The hospitalization rate for those 65 and over is 14.7 per 100,000.

Hospital officials across the country say they are seeing more pediatric cases. The WellSpan Health system in Pennsylvania said it saw a 20% rise in pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 last week and a 23% rise this week, even though the week isn’t over.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said there were more than 325,000 COVID-19 cases in children reported during the week ending Dec. 30, a 64% increase over the previous week.