In December 2020, the end of the first year of the pandemic, only one-quarter of Americans traveled for the holidays — a fraction of the normal one-third who do. This year is different: air travel is triple what it was in 2020, and 109 million Americans — almost exactly one-third of the country — are traveling. The timing couldn’t be worse: the incredibly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 is causing a vast surge in cases. That’s causing many to rethink plans — particularly those with children under the age of five, who are not yet eligible for vaccination. Indeed, the lack of a vaccine for the youngest means young children, toddlers and babies are unprotected this holiday season.
That omicron is still not fully understood is understandably making traveling parents more nervous. Different variants have been known to infect children at different rates. And in the case of omicron, early data is already pouring in regarding how the new variant affects children compared to previous ones.
In Texas, doctors are reporting an increase in hospitalizations of children under the ages of 18.
“We can confidently say at this point that we are now at the beginning of a new omicron surge, and that surge is affecting children as well as adults,” Dr. Jim Versalovic, co-chair of the TCH COVID-19, said about hospitalizations at Texas Children’s Hospital. Specifically, there were 10 pediatric hospitalizations due to COVID-19 over the last week. “Our hospitalizations for those under 18 years of age have more than doubled in the past four days,” Versalovic added.
Doctors saw an increase in hospitalizations of children under the age of 5 during their omicron surge, too, and suspected it was because of omicron’s increased infectious rate. Notably, doctors said there was one common theme among the hospitalized children: their parents were unvaccinated.
“All these young children being admitted, most of them, the parents have not been vaccinated either,” Dr. Waasila Jassat of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases told CBS News. “So I think, certainly the value of vaccination in the adults, protecting the children in the homes, is something to keep in mind.”
Want more health and science stories in your inbox? Subscribe to Salon’s weekly newsletter The Vulgar Scientist.
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the omicron variant now accounts for nearly 73 percent of new coronavirus infections in the United States. That rise is astonishing given that, in the beginning of December, the new variant only made up less than 1 percent of new infections. While the jury is still out regarding omicron’s virulence — meaning its potential to cause severe disease — the variant’s increased transmissibility means more people are at risk of getting infected, including children.
It is important to note that relatively low numbers of children have been hospitalized or died from COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. Age seems to be linearly correlated with risk from COVID-19, a trend that has stayed true throughout the pandemic.
Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases and associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of California, Davis, told Salon that there is …….