According to a study published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Covid-19-related hospitalizations among teenagers in the United States over the past three flu seasons has been about three times higher than influenza-related hospitalizations.
The results contradict claims that influenza is more threatening to children than Covid-19, an argument used to reopen schools and question the value of vaccinating adolescents against the coronavirus.
“Much of this suffering can be prevented,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, in a statement. “Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic.”
Children are at a much lower overall risk of Covid-19 compared to adults, but it is believed that their likelihood of infection and serious illness increases with age. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the hospitalization rate for children ages 12-17 has been 12.5 times lower than that of adults. However, according to the new report, the rate was higher than in children ages 5-11.
The researchers counted Covid-19 hospital stays in children aged 12 to 17 from March 1, 2020 to April 24, 2021. The data came from Covid-Net, a population-based surveillance system in 14 states that covers about 10 percent of Americans.
The number of adolescents hospitalized for Covid-19 decreased in January and February of this year, but rose again in March and April. Between January 1, 2021 and March 31, 2021, 204 teenagers were likely hospitalized mainly for Covid-19. Most children had at least one underlying medical condition, such as obesity, asthma, or a neurological disorder.
None of the children died, but about a third were admitted to intensive care and 5 percent required invasive mechanical ventilation. About two-thirds of adolescents admitted to the hospital were Black or Hispanic American, reflecting the greater risk the virus poses to these populations.
The researchers compared the numbers for Covid-19 to hospital admissions for flu in the same age group during the 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-20 flu seasons. From October 1, 2020 to April 24, 2021, adolescent hospital admission rates for Covid-19 were 2.5 to 3.0 times higher than for seasonal flu in previous years.
The rate could have increased this spring due to the more contagious variants of the coronavirus floating around, as well as the reopening of schools that brought children together indoors and looser adherence to precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, the researchers said .
The data adds urgency to the drive to get more teenagers vaccinated, said Dr. Walensky, who added that she was “deeply concerned” with the numbers.