Lots of people want to terrify you into believing that COVID-19 is sending huge numbers of children “too young to get vaccinated” into the hospital.
But the data they cite don’t establish that at all.
Certainly, the headlines would scare any parent: “ Children are hospitalized with Covid at record numbers !” “ Hospitalizations skyrocket in kids too young for COVID shots !”
This is an attempt to make you think that COVID-19 is putting record numbers of children, especially very young children, into the hospital. But from the data and reporting provided, it’s just as likely that we are seeing the typical seasonal surge in pediatric hospitalizations. Meanwhile, thanks to the very contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus, more children with no COVID-19 symptoms are testing positive.
The Associated Press story at least tries to explain this: “The CDC also said the surge could be partially attributable to how COVID-19 hospitalizations in this age group are defined: a positive virus test within 14 days of hospitalization for any reason.”
So, at least some of these COVID-19-positive hospitalizations, perhaps most or nearly all, in fact, are hospitalized not even “with COVID,” but after COVID-19.
January always sees a surge of pediatric hospitalizations, especially among young children, because it is flu season and RSV season. Here, for instance, is New York’s flu hospitalizations by week in the flu season before COVID-19.
A majority of the pediatric flu hospitalizations occurred between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. RSV, another gnarly respiratory virus, is famous for filling up the pediatric wings of hospitals shortly after Christmas.
So, there are multiple reasons outside of COVID-19 why we’re seeing a week-over-week rise in toddler hospitalizations. This happens every year.
Once the tots are in the hospital, they get tested for COVID-19. Multiply the non-COVID-19 reasons for being in the hospital times non-symptomatic COVID-19 cases, and you get “record numbers of pediatric COVID hospitalizations.”
That’s just a theory, but it’s plausible, and nothing in all those articles with scary headlines disproves it.
To establish that COVID-19 is causing a surge in hospitalized children or toddlers, the scary stories would have to show that either
- An unprecedented number of the COVID-19 hospitalizations are due to COVID-19 symptoms or complications, or
- Current all-cause pediatric hospitalizations are significantly higher than in previous Januaries.
Neither of these has been shown, regarding either all children or just young children.
Here are the most relevant claims about the causes of hospitalizations.
NBC News : “Some of those children were found to be Covid-positive through routine testing if they had to be hospitalized for other, unrelated issues. But many have been hospitalized specifically because of complications from Covid-19.”
“Some” and “many” are impossibly vague, of course. There are no numbers.
Seattle Children’s Hospital critical care chief Dr. John McGuire told the Associated Press ,“Most of the COVID+ kids in the hospital are actually not here for COVID-19 disease. They are here for other issues but happen to have tested positive.”
Again, “most” could be 51%. It could also be 75% or 99%.
So, it is possible that COVID-19 is driving record numbers of very young children to the hospital, but this has not been established by any of the data in these stories with the scary headlines.