COVID hospitalization rates in babies as bad as for seniors amid Omicron wave, study shows

A nurse checking a patient's equipment in a hospital
Nurse Kaitlyn Read checks on IV pumps treating a COVID-19 patient at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Infants younger than 6 months had the same rate of hospitalization as seniors age 65 to 74 during this summer’s Omicron wave, according to a new report.

The findings, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show that COVID-19 can still cause severe and fatal outcomes in children too young to be vaccinated.

“These findings underscore the continued risk for COVID-19–associated hospitalization among infants [younger than] six months who are ineligible for vaccination,” the report said.


“Multiple factors likely contributed to high COVID-19–associated hospitalization rates among young infants during the Omicron variant–predominant period,” the authors explained, “including the high infectivity and community transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant and the relatively low threshold for hospitalizing infants for signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (e.g., fever) relative to that in older children.”

The COVID-19 hospitalization rate for youngest infants was similar to that of younger seniors during the summer surge.
The COVID-19 hospitalization rate for infants younger than 6 months was similar to that of seniors age 65 to 74 during the summer Omicron surge.
(U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

During the first Omicron surge that spread last fall and winter, the COVID-19 hospitalization rate spiked for both the youngest infants and younger seniors, eventually reaching about the same rate. Then, during the variant’s summer surge, the hospitalization rate for both groups climbed again, also hitting about the same rate.

In prior surges, the youngest infants were hospitalized at rates well below those among seniors age 65 to 74.

The COVID-19 hospitalization rate for the youngest infants during the summer’s Omicron wave was significantly higher than the previous summer’s peak, which was dominated by the Delta variant.

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The findings may come as a surprise, especially given the conventional wisdom that younger children and infants are far less likely to fall seriously ill with COVID-19 than older groups.

But the data illustrate that the groups hit hard by the virus can change with the rise and fall of new coronavirus variants.

The CDC and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women be vaccinated “to facilitate the passive transfer of antibodies to these very young infants,” Dr. Krysia Lindan, a UC San Francisco professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, said at a recent campus town hall.