Omicron Virus Variant Linked to Less Severe Outcomes in Children in New Study

Omicron Virus Variant Linked to Less Severe Outcomes in Children in New Study
Undated colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell (blue) heavily infected with COVID-19 particles (red), isolated from a patient sample at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., on Oct. 31, 2020. (NIAID)
Zachary Stieber

The Omicron virus variant causes less severe disease in young children, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed the health records of nearly 80,000 children under 5 years old who contracted the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, for the first time, mostly when the Delta virus strain was dominant in the United States.

Comparing the outcomes of the group who contracted COVID-19 recently during the Omicron-driven wave to those who got the illness during the Delta dominance, researchers found that the former were less likely to go to emergency departments, require hospitalization, be admitted to intensive care units, and require mechanical ventilation.

"This is the first large-scale study in children under 5 years old to show that COVID-19 infections from Omicron were less severe than Delta, with significant reductions in severe outcomes ranging from 29 percent for ED visits to 71 percent for mechanical ventilation," Rong Xu, a biomedical professor at Case Western Reserve University and one of the study's authors, told The Epoch Times in an email.

COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases have been rising among many age groups in the country since Omicron emerged, including among pediatric populations. While the hospitalizations can be misleading—many patients are admitted for other reasons—those under 5 are the only population that can't get COVID-19 vaccines, spurring concern about how Omicron may be affecting them.

Studies from multiple countries, including South Africa, showed that Omicron is resulting in a lower percentage of severe cases and hospitalizations than Delta, even as it bypasses protection from vaccines and prior infection better than the earlier strain.

The new research, published last week as a preprint, indicates that young children also are experiencing fewer severe cases on average.

Researchers used the TriNetX Analytics network platform, which contains de-identified electronic health records of 90 million patients across the United States. About 7,200 of the cases studied were detected after the dominance of Omicron.

In the three days after detection, the children were significantly less likely to need hospital care or mechanical ventilation, typically reserved for the most severe cases, researchers found. They didn't include children with evidence of prior infection, or natural immunity.

"Since vaccines are not available to children under 5 and the study population comprised of children who had no previous infections by coronavirus, there were no confounding effects of vaccination or prior infections, so there should be no effects of preexisting immunity. Taken together, these results suggest that the Omicron variant is inherently milder than the Delta variant in infected children under 5," they wrote.

That's good news for parents, some of whom may have seen headlines about the rise in child hospitalizations attributed to COVID-19, even incidental ones.

The Delta virus variant already presented little risk to young children. Researchers said mortality risks weren't reported because so few deaths have occurred, both during the period of time when Delta dominated and the more recent Omicron dominance.

Limitations included the study being observational and retrospective and the Omicron cohort likely containing a small number of Delta infections. Researchers said further studies are needed to try to determine longer-term acute consequences of Omicron and similar matters.

Xu said that despite the findings, "the risks for severe clinical outcomes from Omicron in children under 5 are still substantial."

"Together with the high transmissibility of Omicron and the sheer number of children who have been infected, the overall clinical consequence of Omicron on children could be greater than the Delta variant," she said.

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