Dr. Anthony Fauci has downplayed concerns about a rise in the number of children in hospital with COVID, as the Omicron variant continues its rapid spread.
Speaking to MSNBC's Ayman Mohyeldin, who was filling in for Rachel Maddow on Wednesday night, Fauci suggested that some of the children currently being treated at medical facilities were hospitalized with COVID as opposed to "because of COVID."
He added that some children who are currently listed as being in hospital with COVID may actually be receiving treatment for "a broken leg or appendicitis," rather than for a severe reactions to the virus.
Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, also said that while the risk of children getting hospitalized with COVID is far lower than for adults and elderly people, the numbers would be expected to increase alongside the record breaking number of new cases recorded in the U.S. and the rest of the world due to the spread of Omicron.
According to recent figures, there were an average 378 children aged 17 and under who were admitted to hospital with coronavirus between December 22-28, breaking the previous record of an average 342 per day, which was recorded in September.
"Quantitatively, you're having so many more people, including children, who are getting infected," Fauci said.
"When you have such a large volume of infections among children, even with a low level of rate of infection, you're going to still see a lot more children who get hospitalized.
"The other important thing is that if you look at the children are hospitalized many of them are hospitalized with COVID as opposed to because of COVID," Fauci added.
"What we mean by that is that if a child goes in the hospital they automatically get tested for COVID and they get counted as a COVID hospitalized individual, when in fact they may go in for a broken leg or appendicitis or something like that.
"So it's over counting the number of children who are 'hospitalized' with COVID as opposed to because of COVID."
Senator Ted Cruz, a frequent critic of Fauci, was one of those who condemned the remarks on social media. The Texas Republican suggested such a dismissal of concerns about hospitalized children wouldn't have happened while Donald Trump was president.
"Now Fauci says this? Is this because pandemic politics have changed for the Biden admin?" Cruz tweeted while sharing a clip in the interview.
Also during his appearance on MSNBC, Fauci said the U.S. may stop focusing solely on the number of new cases as the reportedly milder Omicron variant combined with more than 78 percent of the population receiving at least one vaccination has resulted in fewer death and hospitalizations compared to previous waves.
"What are we trying to prevent? We're trying to prevent people from getting sick. So if you have a virus that can give you a lot of infections, really almost like a wave of infection, like we're seeing right now with Omicron, what becomes more important is the percentage of people who are sick enough for example, to require hospitalization," Fauci said.
"You can't just forget about the number of people who are infected, because that's the forewarning of what might happen with hospitalization. But as you get further on, and you see less severity, clearly hospitalization is the important thing."
The CDC has been contacted for further comment.