The highly transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19 is sending waves of children to the hospital in record numbers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest data.
The week of Dec. 22 to Dec. 28 was the highest spike yet of COVID-19 hospitalizations for children up to 17 years old, the CDC tracker shows. More than 370 children are currently hospitalized daily, a 66 percent increase from the week prior.
Doctors have called the omicron-fueled surge “heartbreaking,” telling The Associated Press that low vaccination numbers among children during the outbreak are concerning.
“It was hard enough last year, but now you know that you have a way to prevent all this,” Paul Offit with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia told the AP.
More than 1,000 children have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of children have been hospitalized in the last few months alone.
From Aug. 1 to Dec. 28, more than 76,000 children have been hospitalized with COVID-19. The omicron variant was first detected in the U.S. in early December but accounted for 59 percent of all cases last week.
The American Pediatric Association estimates that in the past two weeks, there was a 5 percent increase in children testing positive for COVID-19, with 368,515 cases added from Dec. 9 to Dec. 23.
While children are less likely to develop severe symptoms of COVID-19 than adults, the CDC warns they can still suffer from major health issues like multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare disease associated with COVID-19 that results in inflamed body parts.
Children ages 5 to 11 years are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, which is shown to be extremely effective at reducing serious illness, according to a CDC report released Thursday.
About 14 percent of children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated, while 53 percent of those ages 12 to 17 fully vaccinated.