HOUSTON — Texas Children's Hospital reports an alarming surge in the number of children being hospitalized with COVID-19, primarily with the omicron variant.
At a news conference Monday, the Houston hospital reported 70 pediatric patients are currently hospitalized with COVID. A week ago, TCH had 30 young COVID patients. The week before that, they had 15.
More than one-third of patients hospitalized in recent days are younger than 5 years old, according to Dr. Jim Versalovic, who leads TCH's COVID-19 Command Center. Unlike adults, Versalovic said it's too early to say whether the variant is milder for young children.
"We are seeing cases of viral pneumonia and respiratory distress, serious lung infections in children even under two years of age," the doctor said. "There's no question that omicron is making a real impact in the youngest of children."
The patients include several babies who are very sick from the virus.
"Just last week, we had 12 babies in the ICU with COVID," TCH spokesperson Natasha Barrett said. "It's heartbreaking what we're seeing in the halls of our hospital right now."
Versalovic said some of the children have other health issues.
"We do know that conditions such as Down syndrome, diabetes, certain forms of pediatric cancer, lung and heart conditions and obesity may put children, including adolescents, at greater risk for severe COVID," Dr. Versalovic said.
He said they've seen only one case of co-infection with both COVID and the flu and that child did not need to be hospitalized.
Like adults, the omicron variant is blamed for the dramatic surge of cases in children. Hospital officials say the positivity rate has skyrocketed from 15 percent during the delta surge to a current rolling seven-day average of about 30 percent.
"We've had already staggering numbers from this omicron surge already," Versalovic said. "90 percent of recent cases are due to omicron."
Barrett said the majority of their patients are unvaccinated, including older kids who are eligible for the vaccines.
According to Barrett, 80 percent of eligible school-age children in the Greater Houston Area have not received their first shot.
On Monday, the FDA authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 booster for children 12 to 15 and reduced the wait time between the vaccine’s primary series and booster to five months.