- A new report found that children were more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic compared to the flu.
- Children with COVID-19 also spent a longer time in the PICU compared to children with the flu.
- Children have been less likely to have severe disease from COVID-19 compared to adults, but they are still at risk.
Research has found that COVID-19 is still more dangerous in children than the seasonal flu.
Pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and hospital stays were also longer in children hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to children hospitalized with the flu, according to the findings.
Previous research has identified higher rates of hospital admissions and mortality among children with COVID-19 compared to the flu.
Some infectious diseases experts suspect that COVID-19 was more dangerous in kids during the first 15 months of the pandemic since it was a novel virus and children had no prior immunity.
Pediatric deaths from COVID-19 are still very rare, making up between 0 and 0.02 percent of cumulative deaths in states that report data, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Over 1,200 children have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in the U.S., according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.) This is a tiny fraction of the over 1 million deaths from COVID-19 reported in the U.S.
“We have known from early 2020 that COVID-19 was much more severe than influenza. This is completely consistent with our experience with coronaviruses versus influenza viruses historically,” says Dr. Linda Yancey, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, Texas.
“In an average flu season, 50 to 100 children die,” Yancey added. “In 2021, we lost 600 kids to COVID-19. This is not in any way comparable.”
The researchers sourced health data from 66 PICU centers in the United States and identified 1,561 PICU patients with influenza (between 2018 and early 2020) and 1,959 PICU patients with COVID-19 (between April 2020 and June 2021).
The research team found that there were twice as many PICU admissions of children with COVID-19 than PICU admissions of kids with influenza during the study periods.
About one-third more children were intubated with COVID-19 compared to the flu.
The findings were consistent across children with and without comorbidities.
The researchers say the findings are in line with previous studies, which have demonstrated higher
The researchers also noted that because the study period among COVID-19 PICU patients was from April 2020 to June 2021, the vast majority of children were not vaccinated against COVID-19 as they were not yet eligible for the shots.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
“I am not surprised by the findings due to the availability of influenza vaccinations during the study period for influenza and the unavailability of COVID-19 vaccines during the study period for COVID-19 infections. There is also past immunity due to previous bouts of influenza, and this strain of COVID-19 was a novel virus,” Dr. Zachary Hoy, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Pediatrix Nashville Pediatric Infectious Disease, told Healthline.
Hoy is interested in seeing how the COVID-19 data compare to data from the influenza H1N1 pandemic in 2009.
Throughout the pandemic, data has shown that COVID-19, in general, is less severe in kids compared to adults.
Children typically experience milder symptoms, but some kids who contract SARS-CoV-2 will
Of the children who have been hospitalized for COVID-19, most have had underlying conditions, according to the
Hoy believes that past immunity due to prior influenza infections, herd immunity and the availability of influenza vaccines likely contributed to influenza being less dangerous than COVID-19 in children.
“As we are exposed to more strains of COVID-19 and vaccination opportunities, we will likely consider COVID-19 as part of respiratory viruses that can cause illness in children and in some cases admission to ICU with significant illness,” Hoy said.
There are safe and effective vaccines that can protect children against both viruses, says Yancey.
“The incalculable benefits of vaccines cannot be overstated, millions of lives have been saved by them and millions more will be in the years to come. Vaccines have taken deadly diseases and eradicated them or reduced them to mostly trivially illnesses,” Yancey said.
Research has found that COVID-19 is more dangerous in children than the seasonal flu. The report found that twice as many children were admitted with COVID-19 during the first 15 months of the pandemic compared to the number of children hospitalized with the flu during the two years before the pandemic. The study also found that hospital and PICU stays were longer among kids with COVID-19 compared to kids with the flu.