The state of New York issued an urgent advisory to pediatricians on Christmas Eve, pressing them to ensure their patients are vaccinated after COVID hospitalizations in children rose four-fold in less than three weeks.
The unusual warning, on Friday night on the eve of a major holiday, comes as the omicron variant of COVID-19 burns like wildfire through New York City's population. More than 20,000 people a day are being infected, and some neighborhoods in lower Manhattan are now among the most contagious spots on Earth.
At this point, the daily number of new COVID hospitalizations is growing more than 30% a day in New York City alone. But the state called out a particular problem in the city with kids, with a four-fold increase in admissions for kids ages 18 and under between Dec. 5 and this week, a span of less than three weeks.
Over the same period, total New York City COVID hospitalizations grew 170%, suggesting that younger kids are getting much sicker at a higher rate now.
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COVID in kids: 'Striking increase' in cases
"We are alerting New Yorkers to this recent striking increase in pediatric COVID-19 admissions so that pediatricians, parents and guardians can take urgent action to protect our youngest New Yorkers," Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett said in a statement.
About half of those hospitalizations were for kids under age 5, who are not eligible to be vaccinated.
But among the rest, in the most recent week, none of the admitted kids ages 5-11, and just a third of the kids ages 12-17, were fully vaccinated.
The state did not break down exactly how sick those kids are, though, or whether ICU admissions or fatalities have increased as well. Since the start of the pandemic, New York has recorded 37 COVID deaths among kids, about a third of whom also had another serious illness like cancer or diabetes when they died.
It's also not clear yet whether the spike in hospitalizations is causing any increase in reports of MIS-C, a pediatric complication of COVID. Since the condition was first identified last year, the state has confirmed just over 600 cases and three deaths.
Statewide, take-up rates for the vaccine in kids have been relatively low. As of Friday, only 16% of eligible kids ages 5-11 and 64% of eligible kids ages 12-17 were fully vaccinated.