Omicron was most severe for unvaccinated children aged 5 to 11 years, study shows

Unvaccinated children ages 5 to 11 were hospitalized with Covid at twice the rate of children vaccinated during the winter outbreak of the Omicron variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

The study was the latest to demonstrate that vaccines help keep children out of the hospital with Covid, despite the vaccines losing some of their potency in stopping infections of the Omicron variant.

But the CDC report, based on data from hospitals serving about 10% of the U.S. population in 14 states, also offered some of the strongest evidence to date that racial disparities in childhood vaccinations may be making black children more vulnerable. exposed to serious illness from Covid.

Black children in the 5-11 age group accounted for about a third of unvaccinated children in the study, the largest of any racial group, and accounted for about a third of total Covid-related hospitalizations within the age group.

2020 estimates based on census data suggest that black children made up about 14% of U.S. residents ages 5 to 11. But it’s unclear whether the areas covered by the CDC study are representative of the country’s population, making it difficult to accurately measure any disparities.

“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 serious outcomes,” the CDC study said.

The agency did not report national data on the race or ethnicity of vaccinated children, making it difficult for researchers to examine gaps in protection.

Seven states and Washington, DC, report racial data for vaccinated children ages 5 to 11. Black children were inoculated at lower rates than white children in most but not all of these states, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found this month. Asian children tend to have the highest vaccination rates, the analysis found, and Hispanic children were inoculated at lower or similar rates than white children.

Among all US residents, blacks remain less likely than whites to be vaccinated, although the gap has narrowed over the course of the vaccination campaign.

Children are protected in much smaller numbers: only about a third of children aged 5 to 11 have at least one dose of vaccine, the lowest rate of any age group. And the pace of vaccinations in this age group has slowed down considerably in recent weeks.

The CDC study covered the period from mid-December to late February, during which about 400 children were hospitalized with Covid at the selected hospitals that participated in the study. Almost 90 percent of them were not vaccinated. The report said about a third of the children had no underlying medical conditions and a fifth were admitted to an intensive care unit.

Among children who tested positive for the virus before or during hospitalization, three-quarters of them were admitted primarily for Covid rather than other illnesses, the CDC said.

The agency said that Omicron appeared to be causing less serious illness in children than the Delta variant, as was the case in adults, but that Omicron was so contagious and infected so many children that they were hospitalized at higher rates during the Omicron outbreak. .

Infected children are much less likely to become seriously ill compared to adults. But because younger children (under age 5) still do not qualify for vaccination and older children are inoculated at much lower rates, children in general are somewhat less protected from the virus than adults.

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