A new study suggested that the number of children being hospitalized because of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) is likely to be overcounted by as much as 45 percent. Children make up about one to three percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to official data. However, the new study by Stanford University researchers implied that the actual percentage may be even lower.
The study published May 19 in Hospital Pediatrics examined 117 children who received in-patient treatment at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford in California. The children either tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving at the hospital or sought treatment for a syndrome that occurred after coronavirus infection. They were hospitalized between May 10 of last year and Feb. 10 of this year.
Of the 117 children, 14 were diagnosed with MIS-C (multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children) – a condition linked to COVID-19. While the children may not have fallen severely ill during the acute coronavirus infection stage, it triggered immune responses that subsequently caused inflammation.
Fifty-three children were likely not sick enough from SARS-CoV-2 to require in-patient treatment, the study authors remarked. Only 15 of the 117 total patients – about 13 percent – were determined to have been critically ill. Meanwhile, nine children subsequently suffered from severe COVID-19. These included three children who were hospitalized for a different reason but contracted the disease during their stay.
The researchers noted that one child was admitted to the hospital to undergo surgery for a congenital heart problem. The child showed no symptoms upon arrival, but later tested positive and fell critically ill. Researchers attributed this to the combination of COVID-19 and the child’s existing condition.
Furthermore, the study authors found that about 40 percent of the total children they observed did not show any COVID-19 symptoms at all. Meanwhile, 28 percent of the 117 kids only showed symptoms of mild to moderate COVID-19. All-in-all, around 55 percent of children recorded as hospitalized due to COVID-19 were actually in need of in-patient treatment for it. The other 45 percent were hospitalized for a different reason – but only happened to test positive for the Wuhan coronavirus.
The findings followed concerns about children’s immunization against the Wuhan coronavirus
Even though the study is based on a small sample size, its results suggested that around 9,000 children needed COVID-19 treatment. Study co-author Dr. Alan Schroeder told USA Today: “Our goal is to make sure we have accurate data on how sick children are getting. If we rely on hospitals’ positive SARS-CoV-2 test results, we are inflating by about two-fold the actual risk of hospitalization from the disease in kids.”
Lead study author Dr. Roshni Mathew meanwhile remarked that the data may be useful to understand community transmission better. However, she noted that it does not accurately measure the rate at which children fall ill from COVID-19. “Just knowing that a child is hospitalized and has the virus is not enough information to determine if they are actually sick with COVID-19,” Mathew said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children below 18 years old make up only 12.4 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. It added that children also made up a minuscule fraction of total COVID-19 fatalities in the country. Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in its latest report that just over 16,000 children had been hospitalized because of the coronavirus as of May 13.
The findings of the Stanford researchers came as parents considered having their children vaccinated against COVID-19. Children as young as 12 recently became eligible for Wuhan coronavirus immunization. While some parents are eager to have their children inoculated for protection, others have expressed skepticism over the idea. (Related: More parents STANDING UP against coronavirus vaccines targeting children.)
To address the eventual demand, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the emergency use authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Under the original EUA issued in December of last year, the company’s mRNA vaccine can be administered to Americans 16 years old and up. The May 10 amendment permitted the vaccine for use in children 12 to 15 years old.
Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said: “The FDA’s expansion of the [EUA] for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents 12 through 15 years of age is a significant step in the fight against the … pandemic.” She added that “parents and guardians can rest assured that the [FDA] undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data” before it amended the EUA for the vaccine. (Related: Ex-Pfizer VP: Stop vaccinating people who are not at risk of dying from coronavirus.)
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