The New Omicron Variant Is Spreading In Children's Hospitals

Philip Popovic

Admissions to pediatric hospitals in New York City have increased by five-fold this month. The number of admitted pediatric patients has nearly doubled in Washington, DC. Nationally, pediatric hospitalizations are up 35% in just the past week.

Infected children across the United States are more likely to contract the highly transmissible Omicron variant during the busy holiday season than ever before, and children's hospitals are preparing for a worse situation.

In Houston, Texas Children's Pediatrics & Urgent Care's chief medical officer, Dr. Stanley Spinner, told CNN that he believes more cases will be seen than ever before.

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Spinner said in a telephone interview that cases between Christmas gatherings have continued to rise.

In addition to that, this coming weekend we'll also have New Year's, so there will be more people gathering -- more exposures, and then the numbers will increase.

As for the Omicron variant, Spinner said it is looking worse than Delta, since it has infected more children.

In contrast to the adults, where relatively fewer adult infections are said to have led to hospitalization, what's concerning is that an increasing number of children are being hospitalized.

The vaccines can't be given to children under 5 or to children who are not fully vaccinated, or who are not vaccinated at all, but over 5 are able to get vaccines, so that is concerning.

Despite Spinner's lack of evidence supporting Omicron as a more severe disease-causing variant compared to previous variants, he is not seeing any evidence it's milder.

Spinner said the hospital is a last resort for children who are already sick, since they do everything to keep them out.

Most of these kids that they're admitting for Covid have respiratory issues, so they need oxygen and other assistance. If they're just dehydrated, they'll need IV fluids, but overall, these are kids that are sick - that need oxygen and other assistance.

He said most kids who are seriously ill aren't vaccinated or aren't vaccinated enough. In general, Spinner said, "Virtually all of our kids who are in the hospital were unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, either having received one vaccination dose but lacking the second, or not having fully protected themselves from the vaccine."

Connecticut Children's Medical Center's physician in chief, Dr. Juan Salazar, told CNN that children are an easy target for the virus

This is affecting a wide range of communities and certainly affecting children in a way they haven't seen before. Salazar estimates that a third of Connecticut's children are vaccinated.

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As a result, the virus has found a niche. At least in Connecticut, it does seem to be shifting its focus. Infected children are younger children who have not been vaccinated or those who haven't been vaccinated at all.

It is more prevalent now that our social gatherings have been more liberalized. Maybe the masks have come off -- families are tired, and they are not willing to deal with the strict isolation policies from last year.

As a result, these new variants have been spreading more widely. It is therefore affecting kids who are, at this point, the most at risk population since they are unvaccinated or rarely vaccinated.

As Dr. Jennifer Owensby of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School says, children in New Jersey seem to be mildly ill for the most part.

Infectious diseases chief at Children's National Hospital Roberta DeBiasi says the same effect is driving up case counts in Washington, DC. More than half of test results from Covid-19 are coming from DC.

Children affected by previous variants of the disease are not any sicker than those who were previously infected. However, she said more children are showing symptoms than in the past.

The number of pediatric hospital admissions for Covid-19 has increased nearly five-fold in New York City since December 11, according to state health commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. According to her, 22 children were admitted to city hospitals in the week ending December 11. The week prior, 109 children had been admitted through December 23.

Pediatricians agreed that babies and teenagers alike are affected by the disease.

In children, MIS-Cs, or multisystem inflammatory syndromes, are a concern for Owensby.

Covid-19 usually affects children who are not overly ill with MIS-C as it is characterized by inflammation of the heart and other organs.

Owensby noted that the vast majority of patients are asymptomatic. It was scary because the kids were perfectly healthy kids up to that point. They had no underlying diseases. They appeared in shock and heart failure.

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MIS-C can show subtle symptoms, but it is a serious condition.

That's the thing about kids, Owensby said: "They are fine until they aren't. Then all of a sudden they're seriously ill."

According to DeBiasi, there have not been any signs of an increase in the number of MIS-C cases. She said there hasn't been a spike in MIS-C, but she wouldn't have expected that. "It takes four to six weeks after a new variant is released," she said.

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I have been a freelance writer for over 10 years. I love to cover local news from across the United States and Canada. I deliver news that's important for you in an easily digestible format.

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