For the most part during the COVID-19 pandemic, children were less likely to develop severe symptoms after infection. They were also less prone than adults to have lingering symptoms, otherwise known as long COVID.
Although scientists are still unsure of the exact underlying cause, this can be partially attributed to them leaving home less frequently. Seeming to support the theory is when an uptick of COVID-19 cases among children happened when schools reopened in mid-2021.
The natural level of immunity children have against COVID-19 has by far protected them from severe symptoms and fatal diseases. However, stricter protocols for children may be called for as a new study finds that the new Omicron subvariant, BA.2, may cause more severe symptoms in children.
Hong Kong Study Findings
Researchers in Hong Kong studied the severity of the BA.2 variant among a small number of children who were hospitalized for the most recent COVID-19 strain. They found that BA.2 infections resulted in more serious symptoms compared to previous variants and the influenza virus.
The study stems from the recent reports of children in Hong Kong dying from COVID-19. The region reported its first four deaths involving children in February 2022. Three were in perfectly good health prior to getting infected with COVID-19.
The researchers concluded that children who were hospitalized with the BA.2 variant were 18 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU and seven times more likely to die compared to those hospitalized with the flu.
Downfalls of the Hong Kong Study
While bearing some weight, the preliminary study has not been published in a medical journal nor has it been scrutinized or supported by other research studies. The sample size was also relatively small, which makes the findings difficult to generalize for the U.S. and other parts of the world.
Despite these downfalls, however, the Hong Kong study does provide insights on the severity of the BA.2 variant. According to pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Beth Thielen, the study’s findings show that the BA.2 strain can affect the vulnerable population, including children. This stresses the need to speed up vaccination drives for kids and develop treatments that are effective and safe for this age group.
Doctors Warn Parents Not to Panic
The results of the new study may sound alarming. But doctors are telling parents not to panic. Pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Claudia Hoyen says that the chances of children dying from Omicron are very low. This is supported by the CDC’s U.S. data, which shows that children below 12 years of age account for less than 0.1% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.
Instead, doctors urge parents to focus their energy on preparation. This includes abiding by precautionary measures to protect their children, such as encouraging them to wear masks, taking them to get vaccinated or boosted, and talking to them about COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves.