Hospitals in Ontario are experiencing an increase in the number of children, including babies, being admitted to the hospital COVID-19, which led to four major hospitals issuing a joint petition to pregnant women to be vaccinated.
In response to the “disturbing, potential new trend” of infants hospitalized with COVID, Hospital for Sick Children, CHEO (formerly the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) in Ottawa, McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton and Kingston Health Sciences Center released a joint statement Wednesday, that encourages everyone who is pregnant to get their shots, to protect not only themselves but their babies through antibodies they pass on.
“Currently, we see the highest number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Dr. Anne Pham-Huy, a pediatric specialist in infectious diseases at CHEO. With such a high social transfer, “a few (children) will end up in the hospital, and that’s what we see,” she said.
According to Public Health Ontario, 38 children under five, including babies, have been hospitalized with COVID in Ontario over the past few weeks, and nine aged five to 11 years. There has been a recent death in a child under the age of five.
There are nine children at CHEO with COVID and one in the intensive care unit. There have also been four infants hospitalized in the past few 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 showing that mothers who receive the vaccine during pregnancy “build up an excellent immune response,” Pham-Huy said. There are also several studies showing that their antibodies are then transferred to their babies “at a very good level”, which provides “some degree of protection” in the first few months of life.
One such study, published last fall in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology – Maternal Fetal Medicine, found high levels of COVID antibodies in umbilical cord blood from mothers who had received mRNA vaccines during pregnancy.
“If anyone was on the fence a few months ago, I think Omicron has been a game-changer,” Pham-Huy said of the variant that feeds the current COVID rise.
In a note sent to local health units, and the hospital’s executives on Tuesday asked Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore clinics in primary and emergency care to “prioritize appointments for pregnant women to facilitate timely receipt of their booster vaccine due to the current epidemiology of the province.”
“We know that vaccine uptake among 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 his note.
The Hospital for Sick Children has also experienced an increase in admissions, with 14 pediatric COVID patients as of Wednesday, up from under five a month ago, spokeswoman Sarah Warr said in an email. Six patients are four and under and eight are five and older. Fewer than five are in the intensive care unit and the “majority” are not fully vaccinated or eligible for vaccination.
Dr. Steve Flindall, a physician at the emergency room in the York region, said he has seen “a clear increase in the number of young children being infected,” with “slightly tripling” the number of children entering the emergency room compared to the past waves. Now that children aged five and over are able to get the vaccine, it has moved more into the younger children and babies.
They often do not need to be hospitalized, he said, with cold symptoms and fever. However, in infants under three months, it still means “a lot of intensive effort and a lot of suffering” to examine, as these symptoms need to be taken seriously.
“It seems that children are a little more susceptible to it, and also the fact that it is so contagious and they are simply not vaccinated,” he said, adding that they appear to have been infected. in school (before it became remote), day care and gatherings where they are exposed to unvaccinated adults. Sometimes their own unvaccinated parents give them the disease.
In the United States, many hospitals report an increase in the number of children with COVID. American Academy of Pediatrics said Tuesday that COVID cases have reached the highest level ever in the pandemic. Over 325,000 children’s COVID-19 cases were reported for the week ending December 30, a 64 percent increase over the previous week’s total and nearly double that of two weeks ago.
Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatrician and specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine, said it is clear from reports from the United States. that the sickest children are “almost all unvaccinated,” and getting them shot, if they are justified, is “how to prevent the children from getting so seriously ill.”
The United States has generally had higher prevalence of COVID throughout the pandemic, she noted, as many regions have lower vaccination rates than Ontario and do not have mask mandates. But this should serve as a wake-up call for parents who have been hesitant to get their children shot.
In general, adult hospitalizations for COVID in Ontario are also increasing. Children aged five to 12 are now eligible for shots and approx 44 pct have received at least one dose. Pfizer reported in mid-December that it should test three doses of its vaccines in children under the age of five, as two doses did not seem to work as well as they had hoped.
The good news is that the children at the Hospital for Sick Children so far generally experience mild illness and have been hospitalized for managing symptoms such as fever and dehydration, Warr said.
A study of GTA hospitals found many reported increases in children hospitalized with COVID, but the overall figure is still low.
At North York General Hospital, there has also been an increase in pediatric admissions for COVID-19, but so far it has been “manageable” by less than half a dozen over the past week, said Dr. Ronik Kanani, NYGH’s head of pediatrics, in an email.
“Our current pediatric COVID patients tend to have mild illness including fever. Across all age groups, people who are vaccinated have much milder symptoms than those who are unvaccinated and undervaccinated,” he added.
“We strongly recommend that parents vaccinate their children.”
There are also increases in pediatric COVID patients, compared to previous waves, at St. Joseph’s Health Center and at the William Osler Health System, which includes both the Brampton Civic and Etobicoke General hospitals, according to spokesmen.
Dr. Tali Bogler, chairman of family medicine obstetrics at St. Michael’s Hospital, said it’s important to know if the 38 children and infants recently admitted to the province are there because they have severe COVID, or if they are in the hospital for something else and tested positive.
It would also be good to break down the data further in relation to age. But if more infants are in the hospital with COVID across the province, “it’s worrying because this could be prevented from vaccines during pregnancy,” she said.