U.S. Reports Highest Number of Kids Under 5 Hospitalized With COVID Since Pandemic Began

Now more than ever, children under the age of 5 are being hospitalized for COVID-19. The rates of children being admitted are the highest they've been since the beginning of the pandemic.

The number of children being hospitalized with COVID-19 has dramatically increased as the fast-spreading and highly contagious Omicron spreads across the country, sharply increasing the number of positive cases.

As of Tuesday, an average of 766 children and teenagers are admitted to the hospital every day because of COVID-19. Since mid-December, the hospitalization rates of children under 5 years old have increased from 2.5 per 100,000 to four per 100,000.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said children still have the lowest number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 out of any age group, but pediatric hospitals are seeing more cases than ever.

Dr. Jennifer Kusma, a pediatrician at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago, said she has seen an increase in the number of children being hospitalized because of the Omicron variant. However, the majority of children are not critically ill.

Currently, children under 5 years old are not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer said last month the traditional two doses don't offer enough protection in children ages 2 to 4.

"As a pediatrician, I really wish we already had that vaccine for these young kids," Kusma said

More Children Hospitalized with COVID-19
More children under 5 years old are being hospitalized with COVID-19 as Omicron spreads across the country. Above, an EMS medic from the Houston Fire Department prepares to transport a COVID-19 patient, age 2, to a hospital on August 25, 2021, in Houston. John Moore/Getty Images

The worrisome trend in children too young to be vaccinated underscores the need for older kids and adults to get their shots to protect those around them, said Walensky.

For children aged 5 to 17, the current rate of hospitalization is about 1 per 100,000, according to CDC data.

"Pediatric hospitalizations are at their highest rate compared to any prior point in the pandemic," said Walensky.

At a briefing, she said the numbers include children hospitalized because of COVID-19 and those admitted for other reasons but found to be infected.

She noted that just over 50% of children ages 12 to 18 are fully vaccinated and only 16% of those 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated.

At a White House briefing this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease expert, said many children hospitalized with COVID-19 have other health conditions that make them more susceptible to complications from the virus. That includes obesity, diabetes and lung disease.

Fauci and Walensky have emphasized that one of the best ways to protect the youngest children is to vaccinate everyone else.

Data suggests booster shots offer the best protection against Omicron, and the CDC this week recommended them for kids as young as 12. Among older ages already eligible, just 34% have received them.

The surge in hospitalizations only heightens the concerns of parents worried about how to keep their infants and toddlers safe.

Emily Hojara and Eli Zilke of Sawyer, Michigan, are being extra protective of their daughter Flora, who turns 2 in May. They limit her contact with other children, and no visitors are allowed in the house unless masked, not even grandparents.

"It's been a struggle, and now with this new variant, I feel it's knocked us back," Hojara said. She said the new hospitalization data "just reminds you that that anxiety is hovering really close."

"It's scary that she can't be vaccinated," Hojara said of her daughter.

Pfizer's study has been updated to give everyone under 5 a third dose, and data is expected in early spring.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.