Children and COVID-19: The Omicron Tide May Have Turned

Richard Franki

February 01, 2022

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The Omicron-fueled surge appears to have peaked as new cases of COVID-19 in U.S. children dropped for the first time since late November 2021, dipping back below the 1 million mark for the week, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.

The case count for Jan. 21-27 was just over 808,000, down by almost 30% from the previous week’s 1.15 million. The total number of cases in children was up to 11.4 million as of Jan. 27, with children representing 18.6% of all cases reported since the pandemic started, the AAP and CHA said in their weekly COVID-19 report.


As children remain the largest reservoir of unvaccinated Americans, their share of the COVID case load continues to rise quickly. Just 2 weeks ago, children made up 17.8% of the cumulative number of cases, and at the end of December it was 17.4%, the AAP/CHA data show.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that trends for admissions and emergency department visits reflect the decline in new cases. New admissions of children aged 0-17 years with diagnosed COVID-19 peaked at 1.25 per 100,000 population on Jan. 15 and were down to 0.95 per 100,000 on Jan. 29.

Daily ED visits for COVID-19, measured as a percentage of all ED visits, peaked at 13.9% on Jan. 14 for children aged 0-11 years and on Jan. 9 for both 12- to 15-year-olds (14.1%) and 16- to 17-year-olds (13.8%). By Jan. 28, the rates were down to 5.6% (0-11), 3.1% (12-15), and 3.3% (16-17), the CDC reported based on data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program.

Trends involving more severe illness support observations that Omicron is milder than earlier variants. Children hospitalized with COVID-19 were less likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit over the last 2 months than during the Delta surge in the late summer and early fall or during the winter of 2020-2021, the CDC said based on data from the BD Insights Research Database, which includes 229,000 patients and 267 hospitals.

Those data show that the highest monthly rate occurred early on, in May of 2020, when 27.8% of children with COVID-19 ended up in the ICU. The rates for December 2021 and January 2022, by comparison, were 11.0% and 11.3%, respectively, the CDC said.

Vaccination Lags in Younger Children

As reports surface about Pfizer-BioNTech filing an emergency use request to extend vaccine coverage to children aged 6 months to 5 years, it does appear that prevention efforts could use the proverbial shot in the arm.

As of Jan. 30, just 30.4% of children aged 5-11 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and only 21.6% are fully vaccinated. At a comparable point in their timeline – just short of 3 months after approval – the respective numbers for children aged 12-15 were about 42% and 31%, CDC data show.

In the younger group, both initial doses and completions rose slightly in the first 2 weeks of January but then dropped in each of the last 2 weeks. There was a more significant surge in interest among the 12- to 17-year-olds in mid-January, but the last full week of the month brought declines of more than 50% in both measures, according to a separate AAP analysis.

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