New study identifies risk factors associated with severe cases of COVID-19 in kids

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Experts hope these findings help protect young people from infection

A new study conducted by physicians at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt explored some of the risk factors that could make kids more likely to develop severe cases of COVID-19

According to their findings, children who have preexisting conditions and kids who are older are more likely to develop more serious COVID symptoms. 

“This is one of the largest multicenter studies of children with COVID-19 in the United States,” said researcher Dr. James Antoon. “And given the recent, concerning increases in COVID cases nationwide and the fact that the vast majority of children remain unvaccinated and susceptible, these findings should be taken into account when considering preventive strategies in schools and planning vaccinations for children less than 12 years of age.” 

Identifying risk factors

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 20,000 children in 45 hospitals across the country. They were able to look at the number of children who required hospitalization for COVID symptoms and what risk factors were most common among the most severe cases. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that there were two primary risk factors associated with severe cases of COVID in children: age and preexisting conditions. Children that were older and children with prior illnesses (like neurological conditions, obesity, or diabetes) were at an increased risk of contracting serious cases of COVID-19 or spending time in the hospital as a result of COVID-19. 

“These factors help identify vulnerable children who are most likely to require hospitalization or develop severe COVID-19 disease,” said Dr. Antoon. “Our findings also highlight children who should be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines when approved by the FDA.” 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that these findings are used to protect kids -- especially those in school -- who could be at the highest risk of being hospitalized for COVID. With the school year now underway, it’s important to find ways to keep kids safe and healthy. 

“Across the country there is a raging debate on how to best protect children and schools from COVID-19,” Dr. Antoon said. “With schools opening and some already in session, these children need to be protected by vaccinating as many people as possible while also using the practical strategies to limit spread, such as masking, distancing, and ventilation.” 

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