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Health experts cautious about omicron impact on children

Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 6:38 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Pediatricians said they’re in an anxious waiting game to see how the omicron variant will affect kids.

Of the 317 new COVID-19 cases reported in Shelby CountyTuesday, 84 are in children.

Tuesday, seven children are at LeBonheur with COVID-19. One of the children is in the ICU. Doctors said the severity of the illness they’re seeing is like what they saw earlier in the pandemic before the delta case surge.

However, because the delta strain made children so sick, they’re not ruling out just how severe omicron may be.

“We’re sort of in an anxious waiting game for the next few weeks,” said Dr. Nick Hysmith, medical director of infection prevention at LeBonheur Children’s Hospital.

After a summer where Mid-South children’s hospitals saw more children become sicker than ever before from COVID-19, pediatricians are waiting to see what the current omicron case surge will look like.

The new variant is already becoming the dominant strain in the United States.

“There are some reports from across the country that they are seeing an increase in numbers in pediatric patients and they’re seeing more severe cases over the last several weeks,” Hysmith said.

Hysmith said they’ve seen a slight uptick. The hospital averaged four COVID-19 patients a day last week. This week, it’s averaging seven.

“It’s not to the point where we are seeing any kind of drastic change or even a new trend,” Hysmith said. “It is a little bit concerning because we have the new variant coming in and we saw what happened to the new delta variant.”

But the hospital is seeing more flu cases, leaving doctors concerned with how flu season will look in the age of COVID.

There have been 47 positive flu patients at LeBonheur this month. There were only seven last month, and one in all of December 2020.

With 84 new pediatric cases of COVID-19 being reported in Shelby County Tuesday, Hysmith said those children are still at risk of developing severe illness, and even worse side effects like multi inflammatory syndrome or MIS-C.

“That hasn’t changed with any of the variants. If we know this is highly contagious, we’re waiting to see if we’ll have severe acute illness in children like we saw with delta, but we’re also expecting to see the multisystem inflammatory syndrome,” Hysmith said.

Anyone five and up is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and 16 and 17-year-olds are also eligible for boosters.

In Tennessee, less than two percent of five to 11-year-olds are vaccinated. For those 12 to 15, 3.6 percent of the population is vaccinated. In Mississippi, .3 percent of five to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated.

Arkansas’ data wasn’t immediately available.

For a list of vaccination locations, click here.

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