Why COVID-19 hospitalizations of Canadian kids — and infants — could keep rising as Omicron spreads
Toronto Public Health confirmed Thursday that a child under the age of four has died with COVID-19.
The public health agency said it can’t release more details because of privacy rules, but offered its condolences to the child’s family.
Multiple hospitals recently began seeing an uptick in young patients infected with the coronavirus, CBC News has learned, including some of the country’s largest pediatric facilities in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.
The vast majority of cases result in milder illness, medical experts says, but the rise in hospitalizations among youth is likely tied at least in part to the Omicron variant’s uncanny ability to simply infect more people.
“The biggest difference is that Omicron is much more respiratory, so kids are presenting with cold-like symptoms, where before it was fever and maybe some gastrointestinal in the earlier waves,” pediatric infectious diseases specialist Dr. Fatima Kakkar, of Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital, told CBC News.
Omicron’s infection pattern often results in a person’s airways being affected more than their lungs. For many healthy, vaccinated adults, a virus that doesn’t ravage the lungs often means a less severe course of illness than during previous waves of this pandemic.
“This is where you’re seeing more nasal congestion, sore throat — those types of classic influenza-like illness signs and symptoms — than the lower respiratory symptom,” said Dr. Syra Madad, senior director of special pathogens for the New York City Health System.
“For children, when we see upper respiratory illnesses, they tend to do worse than adults because it affects them more.”
Meanwhile, Ontario doctors this week again warned pregnant people to get vaccinated so their newborns have some degree of immunity. Children under the age of five aren’t eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines in Canada at this time.
Since mid-December, CHEO, eastern Ontario’s children’s hospital in Ottawa and Hamilton’s McMaster Children’s Hospital have admitted a total of six babies under the age of 12 months with the virus.
“Previous to that, it was a rare occurrence that an infant was hospitalized for COVID-19 infection,” said a news release from the two children’s hospitals along with the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and the Kingston Health Sciences Centre. “At CHEO, where they are tracking vaccination status in these particular cases, all the admitted infants’ mothers had not been vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Infants are especially vulnerable because their immune systems haven’t fully developed and may struggle to fight off viruses. BORN Ontario — which monitors the impact of COVID-19 on the province’s pregnant population — reports vaccine coverage in pregnant individuals is lower than among the general population, even though they have been prioritized.
“In previous waves, babies were essentially unaffected by COVID,” said Kakkar. “But now we’re seeing newborns. So in that first 30 days of life, significant disease.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has logged more than 155,587 COVID-19 illnesses to those who are pregnant, with 257 people dying. Deaths jumped particularly in August and September as large parts of the country dealt with significant Delta variant spread.
More than 4,000 children were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the U.S. on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported, marking a new pandemic high. Less than two weeks ago, the Post said, fewer than 2,000 children were in hospitals with COVID-19 countrywide. The CDC this week has signed off on booster shots for young adolescents to bolster community protection levels.
From The National
Canada falling behind on promised vaccine donations to other countries
World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus repeated his call Thursday at a briefing in Geneva for greater equity globally in the distribution of and access to COVID-19 vaccines.
For its part, Canada has donated 12.7 million direct COVID-19 doses to the COVAX vaccine-sharing alliance so far in the pandemic, along with $545 million in cash to buy 87 million more.
Adam Houston, medical policy and advocacy officer at Doctors Without Borders Canada, told The Canadian Press that Canada is pulling its weight when it comes to monetary donations but the same can’t be said about vaccine donations.
Houston said Canada needs to put the same kind of pressure on the companies to deliver doses for donation as it did to speed up deliveries to Canada last year.
“When these doses have been meant for Canadian arms, Canada has frequently been able to move up the delivery of these doses,” he said. “Somehow, when the exact same doses from the exact same contracts are going elsewhere, we don’t seem to be having the same pounding on the table to make sure that the doses are getting to other people.”
COVAX hoped to deliver two billion doses to low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2021 but managed less than half of that because of slow donations from wealthy countries and delays to deliveries directly from vaccine makers. Some countries received quickly expiring doses, while others have infrastructure and health-care personnel challenges in order to get shots into arms.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told The Canadian Press during a year-end interview in December that Canada was “continuing to do more than our share” on vaccine donations.
“As people know, unfortunately, Canada no longer has a capacity to produce vaccines in our country so we don’t have a domestic production that we can direct towards the world,” he said. “But what we are doing with the contracts and the vaccine supply we have secured from other countries is send those vaccines that we purchased, that we paid for, that we’re not going to be using, to the world.”
CBC News has reported on the history in recent decades that led to the lack of domestic capacity, the result of decisions made across levels of governments and by both parties that have held power federally. The current government has taken steps to ensure vaccines will be produced domestically at some point in the near future.
Back in Geneva, WHO adviser Bruce Aylward, who is Canadian, said 36 countries had not even reached 10 per cent vaccination coverage. Among severe patients worldwide, 80 per cent were unvaccinated, he added.
Based on the current rate of vaccine rollout, 109 countries will miss the WHO’s target for 70 per cent of the world’s population to be fully vaccinated by July, officials said. That aim is seen as helping end the acute phase of the pandemic.
Quebec expands vaccine passports to liquor, cannabis stores, with 3rd dose requirement on the way
Quebec reported on Thursday that 1,953 people were in hospital with COVID-19, but that number could continue to rise rapidly, according to the province’s health-care research institute.
The latest projections from the institute, which is known by its French acronym, INESSS, indicate that more than 3,400 Quebecers could be in hospital with COVID-19 in two weeks, with a minimum of 400 being admitted to intensive care.
The institute did specify, however, that its projections did not take into account the province’s most recent public health measures, including an overnight curfew, the closing of restaurant dining rooms and delaying the return to school for elementary and high school students.
As hospitalizations continue to grow, so is the number of health-care workers who are absent as a result of having contracted the virus. Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday that total has recently ballooned to almost 20,000.
Starting Jan. 18, Quebecers will need to show proof of vaccination at provincial liquor and cannabis stores, it was announced.
Dubé also said that province will eventually change its vaccination passport system to require those vaccinated to have received three doses, although he did not provide a specific date for the change.
The minister said a sufficient time has to lapse for all eligible residents to have access to doses. Currently, the general population has access to a third dose if they are 50 or older, with access opening more widely on Jan. 17.
Dubé said the measures were necessary to protect unvaccinated people, who represent at least half of those in hospital with the virus.
“If the unvaccinated aren’t happy with this situation, there is a very simple solution at your disposal,” the minister said. “It is to get vaccinated. It’s free.”
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