Adolescent COVID-19 hospitalizations rose in March and April

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In March and April, as COVID-19 vaccinations began to keep older adults out of hospital, more and more children between the ages of 12 and 17 were admitted. Many were critically ill: About a third of children in this age group hospitalized for COVID-19 this year were in intensive care, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says report shows. Nobody died.

The risk of becoming seriously ill and hospitalized because of COVID-19 increases with age, but children and teens can still get sick. The hospitalization rates of COVID-19 in this group were generally about 2.5 to 3 times higher than those of the flu over the past three flu seasons. The new CDC data underscores the importance of COVID-19 vaccination for adolescents, said CDC director Rochelle Walensky during a press conference Thursday. Vaccination shots are now allowed for anyone over the age of 12.

“[The findings] are forcing us to redouble our motivation to have our adolescents and young adults vaccinated,” she said.

The CDC report looked at data from a network of health centers in 14 states. It found that 204 adolescents were hospitalized for COVID-19 between January 1 and March 31, 2021. Of that group, 64 were admitted to an intensive care unit and 10 were placed on a ventilator. About two-thirds had underlying medical conditions, but about 30 percent did not, showing that healthy children can still become seriously ill.

Hospital admissions for adolescents with COVID-19 peaked in January before declining, but rose again in March.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention

The number of hospital admissions for this age group peaked in January, fell in February and started to rise again in early March. Maryland and Michigan both had their all-time highs in April – both states saw overall increases in the number of cases during that time.

A combination of factors may have contributed to that uptick, the CDC report said. Children started returning to school and personal extracurricular activities during that time, and those environments can be where COVID-19 outbreaks can occur. In addition, variant forms of the virus were circulating that can spread more easily. Some areas also began easing COVID-19 restrictions when adults were vaccinated against the disease, which could have spread the virus among people, including adolescents, who were not yet eligible for the shots.

Almost 6.4 million children ages 12 to 17 in the US have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on June 4.