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FDA expected to expand eligibility for Pfizer boosters to 12- to 15-year-olds

US children hospitalized with COVID-19 in record numbers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The omicron-fueled surge that is sending COVID-19 cases rocketing in the U.S. is putting children in the hospital in record numbers.

During the week of Dec. 22-28, an average of 378 children 17 and under were admitted per day to hospitals with the coronavirus, a 66% increase from the week before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. The previous high over the course of the pandemic was in early September, when child hospitalizations averaged 342 per day, the CDC said.

The promising news is that the Food and Drug Administration is expected to expand eligibility for Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to children ages 12 to 15 in the coming days, CNN reports.

Chad Neilsen from UF Health Jacksonville says that’s a good development.

“Getting this booster shot, particularly right now, is going to be your best bet at avoiding illness from COVID-19, particularly the omicron strain,” Neilsen said.

Neilsen can agree with parents who may get resistance from children about another shot. With back-to-school from the holiday break approaching, he says it’s even more important.

“It’s always a hard sell trying to get kids at that age to do really anything much less get another booster, particularly when there’s anecdotal stories of people with breakthrough cases anyway, so that mindset for a lot of these teens might be, ‘Well, everybody’s getting it anyway with the booster — why should I get a booster?’” Neilsen said. “But it is still important. We know that booster immunity is is sort of the ticket to trying to beat back omicron, particularly from severe illness.”

Neilsen says health leaders are watching the increase in hospital stays for children, hoping it doesn’t get worse than the highs seen last summer.

“We’re not quite sure yet if that is indicating that. You know, omicron is more dangerous in kids. We don’t have a lot of evidence to show that yet, but it is building,” Neilsen said. “But it certainly is a little bit alarming for us in the health care field to see that pediatric hospitalizations are rising.”

RELATED: US children hospitalized with COVID in record numbers

Almost 199,000 child COVID-19 cases were reported during the week of Dec. 16-23, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That was about 20% of the more than 950,000 total cases recorded that week.

Doctors continue to say that despite a record number of positive cases among children, the vast majority so far have been mild.

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.