COVID-19 cases increased across all age groups in the most recent wave; children tested positive for COVID-19 more frequently than adults, adjusted for population.
The increase is due to the highly contagious delta variant, relaxed restrictions, and children under the age of 12 being ineligible for vaccines.
There is currently no COVID-19 vaccine approved for children under the age of 12, but Pfizer and BioNTech announced this week that they had asked federal regulators to approve their vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
“We’ve definitely seen dramatic increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in kids over the last eight weeks. It started as soon as we started school.”
Hospitalizations of children with COVID-19 increased in August and September across the United States. During the week ending September 5, pediatric admissions peaked at over three children per 100,000, and since then, they’ve fallen in most states, along with COVID-19 admissions for adults.
Nonetheless, pediatric admission rates have increased in more than a dozen states in the last two weeks, including Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah, Delaware, and Vermont. Children are less likely than adults to suffer from severe illness as a result of the disease.
To better understand the risk to children, USA TODAY analyzed COVID-19 data and spoke with pediatric disease specialists across the country.
“The good news continues to be that this is not a common problem for kids,” said Dr. Daniel Rauch, chief of pediatric hospital medicine at Tufts Children’s Hospital in Boston. “The bad news is kids are not immune to this.”
COVID-19 In Children
“The kids actually drive a lot of the proportion of cases,” said Dr. Bryan Jarabek, chief medical informatics officer at M Health Fairview in Minnesota. “But most of the hospitalizations and deaths are in older groups, although we cut down a lot in the older than 65 group that’s been vaccinated.”
Since the pandemic began, approximately 5 million children under the age of 18 have tested positive for the coronavirus. Across the country, nearly 45 million people have tested positive.
According to Dr. Donna Tyungu, a pediatric infectious disease physician at OU Health in Oklahoma City, a confluence of factors has caused the coronavirus to infect and hospitalize more Oklahoma children this summer and in recent weeks.
She said pockets of low adult vaccination rates, relaxed social distancing, and school reopenings have contributed to more kids with COVID-19 and more kids ending up in the hospital.
Doctors told USA TODAY that if a child is old enough to be vaccinated, they can reduce their risk of severe illness by getting vaccinated. Parents can help protect their children under the age of 12 by getting vaccinated themselves.