Public Health Officials Urge Push to Vaccinate Children Against COVID-19

Public health officials are pushing for greater vaccination uptake among children 5-11, especially among racial and ethnic minorities. Why? Because unvaccinated children, especially those who are Black, fared so much worse than those who had received their shots. Find out about the severity of cases and hospitalization rates.

ATLANTA – A new study makes a strong argument for increasing COVID-19 vaccine uptake among children 5-11. It describes the potential for serious disease requiring hospitalization, ICU admission or invasive mechanical ventilation in that age group among the unvaccinated.

“Black children accounted for the highest percentage of unvaccinated children in this analysis and represented one-third of COVID-19–associated hospitalizations in this age group,” the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. “Increasing COVID-19 vaccination coverage among children aged 5–11 years, with particular attention to racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19, is critical to reducing COVID-19–associated morbidity.”

The article in the CDC’s Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report points out that children aged 5–11 years became eligible for COVID-19 vaccination on Nov. 2, 2021.

During the period of Omicron predominance from Dec. 19, 2021–Feb. 28, 2022, however, “COVID-19–associated hospitalization rates in children aged 5–11 years were approximately twice as high among unvaccinated as among vaccinated children,” according to the authors, who add, “Thirty percent of hospitalized children had no underlying medical conditions, and 19% were admitted to an intensive care unit. Children with diabetes and obesity were more likely to experience severe COVID-19.”

The CDC is calling for increasing COVID-19 vaccination coverage among children aged 5–11 years, especially those in racial and ethnic minority groups.

COVID-19–Associated Hospitalization Surveillance Network (COVID-NET) data were analyzed to describe characteristics of hospitalizations among 1,475 U.S. children aged 5–11 years throughout the pandemic, with a focus on that period of early Omicron predominance. The study reports that, among 397 children hospitalized during that time, 87% were unvaccinated, 30% had no underlying medical conditions and 19% were admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU).

The cumulative hospitalization rate during the Omicron-predominant period was 2.1 times as high among unvaccinated children (19.1 per 100,000 population) as among vaccinated children (9.2), it points out. The study adds that non-Hispanic Black children represented about a third of COVID-19–associated hospitalizations in the age group.

“The potential for serious illness among children aged 5–11 years, including those with no underlying health conditions, highlights the importance of vaccination among this age group. Increasing vaccination coverage among children, particularly among racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19, is critical to preventing COVID-19-associated hospitalization and severe outcomes,” the authors write.

They emphasize that no vaccinated children required higher-level O2 support (e.g., bilevel positive airway pressure/continuous positive airway pressure [BiPAP/CPAP], high flow nasal cannula, or IMV).

Among children who were hospitalized, 67% had one or more underlying medical conditions, the authors advise, although, during Omicron predominance, a larger proportion of children hospitalized with COVID-19 had neurologic disorders (33%) compared with those hospitalized during the pre-Delta period (21%) (p<0.01), and a lower proportion had obesity (33% and 21%, respectively; p = 0.01).

“Similar trends were observed when comparing the Omicron- and Delta-predominant periods,” they write. “Among children hospitalized during the Omicron-predominant period, 19% required ICU admission, including 15% with no underlying medical conditions; 5% received IMV; none died.”

The study concludes that, based on the finding that hospitalization rates in unvaccinated children were double those of vaccinated children, makes a strong argument that vaccines are effective in preventing COVID-19–associated morbidities. Vaccines also prevent multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children; the severe postinfectious hyperinflammatory condition has a higher incidence in this age group than in other age groups, the CDC adds.

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