Is Omicron a danger for kids? SA professor explains high hospitalisation rates

Early data on the spread of the Omicron variant has presented us with some very contrasting news: Although this particular strain appears to be causing milder symptoms in patients, more kids are being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 since it was discovered. However, a leading pediatrician has moved to reassure parents.

Professor Mignon McCulloch, who is the Chairperson of the SA Paediatric Association, has urged people not to panic during her appearance on CapeTalk. Around 20% of new admissions for COVID-19 in Tshwane have been in children aged nine or under, whereas similar spikes have not been seen in any other age groups.

However, it doesn’t mean that Omicron is more dangerous, or even more deadly for children. According to McCulloch, it’s very likely that the children admitted to hospital are actually there for reasons other than the virus – and it is ‘coincidental’ that they have also tested positive for COVID-19 when checked by hospital staff.

“When you get reports like this in the media, it creates panic. Parents must stay calm. I’ve been in touch with my colleagues in Tshwane who say the kids have not been very ill. A lot have come in with broken arms or car accidents and have incidentally been positive for this variant.”

Professor Mignon McCulloch

With the Omicron variant ripping through South Africa in the minute, it’s no surprise that the virus would be rife in children. Throughout the pandemic, they have been susceptible to catching the disease, but remain highly unlikely to get severely ill from COVID. However, the devil remains in the detail.

A child being in hospital WITH coronavirus is not the same as a child who is in hospital BECAUSE OF coronavirus. McCullogh believes the conflation of these two factors has stirred up some unnecessary concerns.

What is more, most kids who are being hospitalised because of COVID-19 do not require advanced medical treatment:

“Some children have come in needing medical attention, very few needing oxygen, and only one or two needing ventilation. However, my take-home message is, go and get vaccinated, take granny, grandpa, mom and dad, aunts and uncles and teenagers who really want a life this Christmas, and do what you can to protect each other.”