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Omicron variant may not be as severe as Delta variant for children under 4, study finds

While the Omicron variant may be more contagious, it isn’t likely to be as dangerous to younger kids

COVID-19 Omicron and Delta concept
Photo (c) Neha Gupta - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Case Western Reserve University explored how the COVID-19 variants may affect young children differently. 

According to their findings, the Omicron variant may not lead to COVID-19 cases that are as severe as those caused by the Delta variant in children under the age of four. 

“The major conclusion to our research was that many more children were infected with Omicron when compared to Delta, but the children who are infected are not impacted as severely as were children infected with the Delta variant,” said researcher Pamela Davis. “However, because there are so many more children infected, our hospitals were affected over the winter months by an influx of young children.” 

Less severe infection

For the study, the researchers analyzed electronic health records from over 651,000 children who had received medical attention between September 2021, and January 2022. This included data on over 66,000 kids infected with the Delta variant, nearly 23,000 kids infected with the Omicron variant, and more than 10,000 kids who had COVID-19 at the start of the Omicron surge when the Delta variant was still prominent. The team paid close attention to emergency room visits, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and ventilation use. 

The researchers ultimately learned that the Omicron variant yielded less severe health outcomes than the Delta variant of COVID-19. While Omicron was found to be as much as eight times more contagious than Delta, the risks were much lower for children under the age of four. 

The study showed that 3.3% of children infected with the Delta variant were hospitalized, whereas 1.8% of children infected with the Omicron variant were hospitalized. Similarly, the risk for ventilation use was 85% lower with the Omicron variant when compared to the Delta variant, and the risk of needing emergency room care was 16% lower. 

Because children under the age of five remain ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, these findings are important in understanding kids’ health risks. The researchers explained that the long-term health risks related to COVID-19 remain unknown among this young age group. 

“We saw the number of hospitalizations within this age group skyrocket in January of this year because the infection rate of Omicron is about 10 to 15 times compared to that of the Delta variant,” said researcher Rong Xu.

“Omicron is less severe than Delta, however, the reduction of the severity range in clinical outcomes is only 16 to 85%. Furthermore, since so many unvaccinated children were infected, the long-term effects of COVID-19 infections on the brain, heart, immune systems, and other organs of children remains unknown and worrisome.” 

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