Teens Are Rarely Hospitalized With Covid, but Cases Can Be Severe

Since the beginning of the pandemic, very few young people have become so sick with Covid-19 that they have to be hospitalized. But of those who did, about a third were admitted to intensive care units and 5 percent required ventilators, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.

These results underscore the importance of vaccinating children against the coronavirus, experts said. “Much of this suffering can be prevented,” said Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the CDC, in a statement. “Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic.”

The data also contradicts claims that influenza is more threatening to children than Covid-19, an argument used to reopen schools and question the value of coronavirus vaccines for children.

Covid-19-related hospitalizations among teenagers in the United States have been about three times higher than influenza-related hospitalizations for the past three flu seasons, the study said.

“There are strong arguments for preventing a disease that leads to hospital admissions and deaths, not to mention contributing to community transmission,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, Chair of the Infectious Diseases Committee at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Children are much less likely to become seriously ill or die from Covid-19 compared to adults, but the risks are believed to increase with age. According to the latest data from the academy, nearly four million children have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began, compared with about 30 million cases in adults.

Still, since the pandemic began, around 16,500 children have been hospitalized for Covid-19 and at least 322 have died, making it one of the leading causes of child deaths, noted Dr. Maldonado feast.

“It sounds like there aren’t many deaths,” especially when compared to 600,000 deaths in the United States, she said. But “it should still be terrifying that 300 to 600 children die from something that is preventable.”

The new CDC report focused on hospital admissions for Covid-19 in children ages 12-17. The rate of hospitalization in this group was 12.5 times lower than that of adults. But the rate was higher than in children ages 5-11, the report said.

The researchers also counted Covid-19 hospital stays in children ages 12 to 17 from March 1, 2020 to April 24, 2021. The data comes from Covid-Net, a population-based surveillance system in 14 states that covers about 10 percent of Americans.

Updated

June 4, 2021, 2:16 p.m. ET

The number of adolescents hospitalized with Covid-19 decreased in January and February of this year, but rose again in March and April. From January 1, 2021 to March 31, 204 young people are expected to have been hospitalized mainly for Covid-19. Most children had at least one underlying medical condition, such as obesity, asthma, or a neurological disorder.

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 .

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 three times the rate of seasonal flu in previous years.

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.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 on May 12. The vaccine was approved for all elderly people in December.

Of the 24 million children aged 12 to 17 in the United States, approximately 6.4 million have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and only 2.3 million are fully vaccinated.

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