Hospitals in Ontario are seeing an increase in the number of children, including babies, hospitalized with COVID-19, which has led four major hospitals to jointly call for pregnant women to be vaccinated.
In response to the “disturbing and potential new trend” of infants admitted with COVID, the Hospital for Sick Children, CHEO (formerly the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) in Ottawa, the McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton and the Kingston Health Sciences Center, issued a joint statement Wednesday calling on anyone who is pregnant to be vaccinated, to protect not only themselves but also their babies with the antibodies they transmit.
“Currently, we are seeing the highest number of children admitted with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic,” said Dr. Anne Pham-Huy, pediatric infectious disease specialist at CHEO. With such high community transmission, “a few (children) will end up in the hospital, and that is what we are seeing,” she said.
According to Public Health Ontario, 38 children under the age of five, including babies, have been hospitalized with COVID across Ontario in recent weeks, and nine children between the ages of five and 11. There was a recent death in a child under five.
There are nine children at CHEO with COVID and one in intensive care. Four infants have also been admitted in recent weeks. None of their mothers had been vaccinated against COVID.
McMaster Children’s Hospital has also admitted more babies in recent weeks than in previous pandemic waves, according to a joint press release from the four hospitals.
There is now a lot of data that shows that moms who receive the vaccine during pregnancy “mount an excellent immune response,” Pham-Huy said. There are also several studies which show that their antibodies are then transferred to their babies “at a very good level”, which offers “a certain degree of protection” during the first months of life.
One such study, published last fall in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology – Maternal Fetal Medicine, found elevated levels of COVID antibodies in the cord blood of mothers who had received mRNA vaccines during pregnancy .
“If someone was on the fence a few months ago, I think Omicron was a game-changer,” Pham-Huy said of the variant fueling the current COVID outbreak.
In a note sent to local health units and general managers of hospitals on Tuesday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Kieran Moore urged primary and acute care clinics to “prioritize appointments for women. pregnant to facilitate timely receipt of their booster vaccine due to the current epidemiology in the province.
“We know that vaccination in pregnant women is not as high as in other populations, despite their risk of serious illness if they are infected with COVID-19,” Moore added in her memo.
The hospital for sick children has also seen an increase in admissions, with 14 pediatric COVID patients on Wednesday, down from less than five a month ago, spokeswoman Sarah Warr said in an email. Six patients are four years old and younger and eight are five years old and older. Fewer than five are in intensive care and the “majority” are not fully immunized or eligible for vaccination.
York Region emergency physician Dr Steve Flindall said he had seen “a marked increase in the number of young children infected”, with the number of children entering emergency rooms “easily tripling” compared to previous waves. Now that children aged five and over can get the vaccine, it is aimed more at younger children and babies.
They often don’t need to be admitted, he said, with symptoms of colds and fever. But in infants under three months of age, it still means “a lot of hard work and a lot of pain” to investigate, as these symptoms need to be taken seriously.
“It appears that children are a little more susceptible to it, and also the fact that it is so contagious and they just weren’t vaccinated,” he said, adding that they appeared to have been infected. at school (before it gets far away), daycare centers and gatherings where they are exposed to unvaccinated adults. Sometimes their own unvaccinated parents pass the disease on to them.
In the United States, many hospitals are reporting an increase in the number of children with COVID. The American Academy of Pediatrics said on Tuesday that COVID cases reached the highest level on record in the pandemic. More than 325,000 cases of COVID-19 children have been reported for the week ending December 30, an increase of 64% from the previous week’s total and almost double that of two weeks ago .
Dr. Anna Banerji, pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto’s Temerty School of Medicine, said it is clear from reports from the United States that the sickest children are “almost all not. vaccinated ”, and getting them vaccinated, if they are eligible, is“ how you keep children from getting so seriously ill ”.
The United States has had generally higher COVID rates throughout the pandemic, she noted, as many areas have lower vaccination rates than Ontario and do not have mask warrant. But this should serve as a wake-up call to parents who have hesitated to have their children vaccinated.
In general, adult hospitalizations for COVID in Ontario are also on the rise. Children between the ages of five and 12 are now eligible for injections, and about 44% have received at least one dose. Pfizer announced in mid-December that it would test three doses of its vaccines in children under the age of five because two doses did not seem to work as well as they had hoped.
The good news is that, so far, children at the Hospital for Sick Children have typically suffered from mild illness and have been admitted for the management of symptoms such as fever and dehydration, Warr said.
A survey of hospitals in the GTA found many reports of increases in the number of children hospitalized with COVID, but the overall numbers are still low.
At North York General Hospital, there has also been an increase in pediatric admissions for COVID-19, but this has been ‘manageable’ so far, with less than half a dozen over the past week , said Dr. Ronik Kanani, NYGH’s chief of pediatrics, in an email.
“Our COVID pediatric patients tend to have mild illness, including fevers. In all age groups, vaccinated people have much milder symptoms than unvaccinated and under-vaccinated people, ”he added.
“We strongly recommend that parents immunize their children. “
There is also an increase in the number of pediatric COVID patients, compared to previous waves, at St. Joseph’s Health Center and the William Osler Health System, which includes both the Brampton Civic and Etobicoke General hospitals, according to spokespersons. .
Dr. Tali Bogler, chair of the family medicine obstetrics department at St. Michael’s Hospital, said it’s important to know if the 38 recently hospitalized children and infants in the province are there because they are suffering from Severe COVID-19, or if they are hospitalized for something else and tested positive.
It would also be good to break down the data even further in terms of age. But if more infants are hospitalized with COVID across the province, “this is concerning because it could be preventable with vaccines during pregnancy,” she said.