Growing numbers of pediatric hospital admissions are stirring alarm as respiratory illnesses coincide and younger children remain ineligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines amid the start of the school year.
Hospital admissions among kids have seen an approximate four-fold increase over the last month, federal data suggests.
Children’s hospitals across the country confirmed increasing numbers of pediatric inpatient volumes, including Nashville-based Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Children’s Hospital Colorado and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Texas Children’s Hospital also reported an uptick in COVID-19 cases among younger residents, with the delta variant behind over 80% of new cases since July 1.
“Well over 80% of our new cases since July 1 in children and adolescents have been due to the delta variant. So we know it’s a highly contagious variant. And so we do expect to continue to see this upward trend in the number of cases during the coming days and weeks,” Dr. Jim Versalovic, Texas Children’s Hospital pathologist-in-chief and interim pediatrician-in-chief, told the Texas Standard, a partnership of local media outlets.
The delta variant was also blamed for the majority of new COVID-19 infections at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; Dr. Michael Smit told Fox News that COVID-19 infections among children doubled in the past two weeks. Smit, hospital epidemiologist and medical director of infection prevention, noted however that the “severity of infection is low, with few children requiring hospitalization.”
It’s not yet clear whether the delta variant is more virulent, or dangerous, among younger age groups, Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the CDC, told “TODAY” co-hosts on Tuesday. “I haven’t seen convincing evidence that it’s more severe. I think the jury is out on that, but just the fact that so many more children are being infected with this strain means that there will be more children who have severe disease, there will be more children who are hospitalized and unfortunately there will be more children who die from COVID and that’s not something we should allow to happen,” Besser said.
COVID-19 vaccines are available to children as young as 12, though younger kids could become eligible for vaccine this fall.
Versalovic noted the delta variant is presenting itself differently in younger patients, writing in a Texas Children’s blog post: “We are seeing more upper respiratory congestion, congestive features and less prominence of loss of taste and smell, at least initially. Also, similar symptoms that have been apparent throughout the pandemic continue to be the case in children and adolescents, like fever, fatigue, and a variety of upper respiratory symptoms.”
Several hospital officials told Fox News the rising hospital admissions are occurring alongside an unusual summertime uptick of a common respiratory virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). National reports of RSV increased into July, which typically results in cold-like symptoms and while most recover within two weeks, certain populations face a higher risk of severe illness, like infants and older adults, according to the CDC.
“Children’s Hospital Colorado continues to regularly have young patients hospitalized for COVID-19 and other upper respiratory illnesses, and these numbers are steadily ticking up,” a hospital spokesperson told Fox News. “To complicate matters, some kids may have COVID and a number of other respiratory viruses concurrently, including RSV. We encourage everyone who can to get vaccinated and to follow prevention measures such as masking, frequent handwashing, social distancing and staying home when sick.”
In a recent conversation led by experts at Vanderbilt Health, top doctors reiterated that unvaccinated populations are largely driving transmission and account for the vast majority of patients experiencing poor outcomes.
“It’ll be really interesting as we move to the fall and kids will be coming back to school which is I think is good for them to be social but many may not mask, they won’t be vaccinated and I’m nervous to see what happens to disease in kids,” said Dr. Tom Talbot, chief hospital epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.