Omicron poses bigger risk for the young, medical data from South Africa shows

The admission rate for children under four was 49 per cent higher during the Omicron wave than for Delta. PHOTO: NYTIMES

CAPE TOWN (BLOOMBERG) - The Omicron variant may be more dangerous for children than earlier coronavirus strains, a study of hospitalisation data from one of South Africa's biggest medical insurance programmes showed.

Data from the 56,164 Covid-19-related hospital admissions among the more than two million beneficiaries of the Government Employees Medical Scheme found that the admission rate for children under four was 49 per cent higher during the Omicron wave than for Delta.

It was also higher than during the infection surges driven by the original virus and the Beta variant, according to the data analysed by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

In addition, admissions were 25 per cent higher for those aged four to 18 than in the Delta wave, although lower than for Beta, it showed.

The trend among children contrasts with the data for adults where the Omicron wave caused the lowest admission rate of any of the four variants that have led to major infection surges in South Africa.

"Persons under the age of 18 are responsible for an increasingly large proportion of identified Covid-19 infections and are associated with an increasingly high case-admission rate," the NICD said in its report on Wednesday (Jan 19).

"This may possibly suggest that the young are being more commonly impacted by Omicron in contrast to the adult population."

Still, the results may be skewed by the fact that until early November, children between 12 and 17 could not get Covid-19 vaccines in South Africa and those below 12 are not eligible for the shots, the NICD said. Older age groups in the country are proportionally more vaccinated than younger adults.

The study also found that the average age of those testing positive for Covid-19 during the Omicron wave was 38.5, compared with 40.8 during the Delta surge, 45.6 during the Beta wave, and 43 in the original surge.

Over all age groups, only 15.4 per cent of those infected during the Omicron wave went to the hospital. The corresponding numbers were 19.3 per cent for Delta, 28.4 per cent for Beta, and 21.4 per cent for the original virus.

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