Is The BA.2 Variant More Severe For Children?

A new study explored the severity of the BA.2 strain in children and found that the younger population could be at high risk for more severe health issues when infected with this variant of the novel coronavirus, dubbed “stealth omicron.”

The Findings Of The Study

In a preprint published March 21, researchers shared what they discovered after examining the COVID-19 cases of children infected with the BA.2 strain in Hong Kong. The team found deaths and other serious outcomes, displaying the potential of this variant to cause severe problems in a vulnerable population. 

Hong Kong was among the places that recorded low case levels during the first year of the pandemic since it did not hesitate to implement strict COVID protocols from the get-go. Aside from masking, social distancing and contact tracing, it also pushed for business and school closures. 

The city recorded low cases and transmissions until the BA.2 subvariant arrived. Not only did stealth omicron spark an alarming rise in cases and deaths in its elderly population, but it also did not spare Hong Kong’s younger population. During the peak of the omicron wave in the city, which was mostly attributed to the BA.2 strain, 1,147 kids were hospitalized while four died due to COVID-19. 

The four children who passed away were also the first cases of COVID deaths in children reported by Hong Kong amid the pandemic. None of them was vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2. Three (aged 11 months, 3 and 4) were said to be in good health before COVID, while one of them, a 9-year-old, had muscular dystrophy. 

The researchers compared the hospitalization and mortality cases of the children during the omicron wave with previous SARS-CoV-2 variants that emerged from January 2020 until November 2021 and the parainfluenza and influenza cases recorded between January 2015 and December 2018. 

They found that kids hospitalized with the BA.2 strain had six times higher odds of dying than those hospitalized due to parainfluenza and seven times higher odds of dying than those hospitalized with the flu. Meanwhile, the odds of children with BA.2 being hospitalized and admitted to the pediatric ICU were 18 times higher than with previous SARS-CoV-2 variants. 

The team also found that children with BA.2 were three times more likely to experience febrile seizures than those with flu and four times more than kids with parainfluenza. On the other hand, there were no reported febrile seizures during the previous coronavirus variants. 

Other complications reviewed in the study were brain swelling, respiratory issues, and croup. For all of them, BA.2 cases reported higher risks, causing the researchers to believe that the omicron subvariant was more severe for children. 

Implications Of The Study

The researchers from the University of Hong Kong concluded the study by saying that the “intrinsic severity” of BA.2 was not mild as shown by the fatality and severe complications in the unvaccinated children. 

Despite the alarming tone of the study, which has yet to be reviewed by outside researchers or published in a medical journal, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland’s pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Claudia Hoyen pointed out via CNN that there’s no need to panic because “the chances of a child dying from omicron are very, very, very, very low.”

Based on data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., deaths in children below the age of 12 only accounted for 0.1% of all COVID-19-related deaths in the country. 

Nevertheless, the new study did highlight the need for eligible kids to get vaccinated against COVID-19 so they could be protected from the virus. Hoyen added that babies and toddlers could also be protected by making sure that everyone surrounding them was vaccinated and boosted. 

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