With the highly transmissible COVID-19 Omicron variant continuing to spread rapidly, many parents are concerned about their children’s health and risk for becoming ill with the disease.
First detected in November, Omicron has fueled a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among people of all ages, particularly among those who are not vaccinated against the disease.
“Although Omicron has led to an increase in cases and hospitalizations among all children, the numbers are rising most substantially among babies and those in their early school years who aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine,” says Dr. Lucretia Carter, a pediatrician at Tidelands Health Pediatrics with a background in virology and vaccine development. “As with other variants, kids tend to fair better than adults, although some children do suffer severe symptoms that require hospitalization.
“Fortunately, the children I’ve treated have done well with outpatient management and symptomatic care,” says Dr. Carter, medical director of pediatrics for the health system. “None have required hospitalization or advanced treatment, though we know that’s certainly a risk for kids, particularly among those who aren’t vaccinated.”
Here are a few facts parents should know about the Omicron variant:
1. Omicron is highly contagious.
Data suggest the omicron variant is highly transmissible; research has shown the variant to be about three times as contagious as the delta variant.
2. Children are at risk.
Pediatric hospitalizations recently reached their highest point since the pandemic began, though the hospitalization rate among children remains lower than other age groups. For the week ending Jan. 1, the hospitalization rate among children 4 and younger, who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated, was 4.3 per 100,000, the highest rate of the pandemic, the CDC reported.
That compares to 1.1 per 100,000 for kids ages 5 to 17, according to the CDC. The hospitalization rate among people older than 65 was 14.7 per 100,000. Everyone ages 5 and older is eligible to receive the vaccine.
One way to help protect children 4 and younger is to be sure people around them are vaccinated, which can help limit their risk of exposure to the disease.
3. Symptoms appear quicker.
In contrast to earlier versions of COVID-19, symptoms from Omicron tend to appear sooner following infection. The CDC reports symptoms typically appear about three days after infection, whereas individuals infected with the original COVID-19 strain typically began experiencing symptoms five to six days following infection. In the case of the Delta variant, the incubation period is typically four to five days after exposure.
4. Omicron symptoms can be similar to other childhood illnesses.
The variant’s symptoms can seem similar to other common childhood illnesses such as flu, RSV or croup. The CDC has reported cough, fatigue, congestion and runny nose as the most common symptoms.
If you think your child may have COVID-19, consider having your child tested or contact your child’s pediatrician or family medicine physician for guidance.
5. Reinfection is more likely.
Research into Omicron suggests that previous COVID-19 infection confers less immunity against this new version of the virus, so kids who have gotten earlier versions of COVID-19. Although scientists are still gathering more data, it appears Omicron may be better able to evade natural immunity than the original form of the virus and other variants.
6. Getting vaccinated is easy.
Research shows the vaccine and booster are safe and highly effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization. Anyone 5 and older is eligible to receive the vaccine, and the booster dose is now authorized for everyone 12 and older. There is no out-of-pocket cost or health insurance required. For more information, please click here.
“Vaccination is truly the key and our best defense against severe COVID-19,” Dr. Carter says. “Your chance for a better outcome is substantially improved if you are vaccinated. If you’re eligible, get the vaccine and the booster when it’s due.”
Dr. Lucretia Carter
Pediatrician, Tidelands Health Pediatrics
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Dr. Lucretia Carter is a pediatrician who practices at Tidelands Health Pediatrics in Myrtle Beach.Learn More
Howard University College of Medicine
Albert Einstein Medical Center
- American Board of Pediatrics
Meet the Expert
Dr. Lucretia Carter
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Dr. Lucretia Carter is a pediatrician who practices at Tidelands Health Pediatrics in Myrtle Beach.