The hospitalisations among children under the age of five, who are too young to get the Covid vaccine, has increased sharply in recent weeks.
According to government data released on Friday, the number has reached its highest level since the beginning of the pandemic.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this makes it even more important for adults and older children to get vaccinated to protect those who can’t yet get the shots.
With the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreading across the country, the hospitalisation rate in young kids has swelled to more than four in 100,000 children, a rise from 2.5 per 100,000 since the middle of last month.
The CDC data comes from more than 250 hospitals in 14 states and shows that the rate among children between five and 17 is around one per 100,000.
“Pediatric hospitalisations are at their highest rate compared to any prior point in the pandemic,” Dr Walensky said.
The rate of hospitalisations among children and teenagers under the age of 18 is still the lowest among all age groups. They make up less than five per cent of the average of daily new hospital admissions, the CDC has said.
On Tuesday, the average number of people under 18 sent to hospital with Covid-19 was 766 – double the amount two weeks before. This development is pushed by fives states with high numbers – Georgia, Connecticut, Tennessee, California and Oregon. The sharpest increase has been seen in Georgia.
Dr Walensky said during a press briefing that the numbers include children taken to hospital because of Covid-19 and those taken in for care to attend to other issues but who have been found to also have been infected with the virus.
The CDC acknowledged that part of the reason behind the spike could be the definition of a Covid-related hospitalisation – a positive test within 14 days of hospitalisation for any reason.
Seattle Children’s Hospital critical care chief Dr John McGuire said the severity of the disease appears to have been lessened with Omicron compared to the Delta variant.
“Most of the Covid+ kids in the hospital are actually not here for Covid-19 disease,” Dr McGuire said in an email. “They are here for other issues but happen to have tested positive.”
The Chief Medical Adviser to the President, Dr Anthony Fauci, said this week that while Omicron appears to produce less severe disease, the sheer number of cases prompted by its high transmissibility will mean a rise in hospitalisations, including among children.
He also noted that many kids who go to hospital with Covid-19 have other health problems, such as obesity, diabetes and lung disease, that make them more susceptible to developing severe disease.
Both Dr Fauci and Dr Walensky have said that the best way to protect those who are too young to get the jabs is to inoculate everyone else.
The Associated Press contributed to this report