(NEXSTAR) — Hospitals around the United States, especially in the South, are starting to fill back up again as the delta variant tears though the country. With previous waves of infection, we’ve been most worried about the elderly being vulnerable. Now, it’s younger people — even children — starting to show up in hospital beds.
Nearly 72,000 kids and teens were infected with COVID-19 last week, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That’s 19% of all cases and a huge jump from the week before, when 39,000 kids and teens were diagnosed.
So is there something about the delta variant that makes children especially at risk? That’s not the right way to think about it, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California San Francisco.
“Certainly there has been an uptick in hospitalizations in kids in the U.S. in recent weeks, especially in some areas like Louisiana and Florida, but (there’s) still no clear evidence that the age group under 12, who are not eligible for vaccines, is disproportionately affected,” said Chin-Hong.
What has actually changed is the previously most vulnerable age group — people 65 and older — has gotten less vulnerable. About 80% of people over 65 in the U.S. are fully vaccinated. Zero percent of children under 12 are because they’re simply not eligible, which leaves them more susceptible to the virus.
Despite the low vaccination numbers, children still make up a small percentage of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Not all states break down their hospitalizations by age group, but according to data collected from 23 states and New York City by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children have only made up between 1.3% and 3.5% of hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic.
“As the latest wave progresses, we may see new patterns emerge,” said Chin-Hong. “So (I’m) keeping an open mind about this, but so far not seeing a widespread onslaught of pediatric hospitalizations, and I predict that younger kids (especially the under-12 set) will still be overall spared from delta.”
The largest age group in the hospital for COVID-19 is 18-49, according to the Centers for Disease Control.