Omicron greater risk for young than other variants; US trends follow South Africa, UK

The omicron coronavirus variant may pose more of a threat for youth than earlier variants, according to a study of early hospitalization data from a large medical insurance program in South Africa. 

Published Jan. 18, the data analysis was conducted by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and included 56,164 COVID-19 hospital admissions among more than 2 million beneficiaries of the Government Employees Medical Scheme. 

Findings include an admission rate 49 percent higher amid omicron for children under age 4 compared to delta surges. The hospitalization rate for 4 and under was also higher than it was amid surges fueled by the original virus and beta. For children 4-18 years old, admissions were 25 percent higher during omicron than delta, although lower than for beta. 

The pediatric trends contrast with data for adults, in which the omicron variant has been tied to  the lowest admission rate of four major variants in South Africa.

"Persons under the age of 18 are responsible for an increasingly large proportion of identified COVID-19 infections and are associated with an increasingly high case-admission rate," according to the NICD report. "This may possibly suggest that the young are being more commonly impacted by omicron in contrast to the adult population."

Results may be affected by pediatric vaccination rates in South Africa. Until early November, children 12-17 years weren't eligible for vaccination, and those below 12 still aren't eligible.

The U.S. seems to be following similar omicron patterns as South Africa and the U.K., according to several findings cited by The New York Times. Both South Africa and the U.K. have reported a rapid, extreme, monthlong surge, followed by a quick decline in cases, and then hospitalizations and deaths. 

In multiple states and areas hit by omicron in December, cases have recently started to plateau, according to the Times, though it's still too early to say omicron has peaked in some areas.

In previous COVID-19 surges, such as delta-driven waves, cases often rose for about two months before falling.


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