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UW Health: More kids hospitalized with COVID-19 than ever before

Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 9:45 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 5, 2022 at 9:49 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Children’s hospitals, including one in Madison, are strained with children fighting coronavirus, and a mix of factors explains why kids are the latest targets of the pandemic.

“We’ve had more kids with COVID in the last couple of months, and certainly in the last month, that I can recall at any point in the pandemic,” said Dr. James Conway, a pediatric infectious disease physician and medical director of UW Health’s immunization program.

Dr. Conway said the American Family Children’s Hospital is close to full capacity, as some children fight COVID-19 and others struggle with different illnesses after transferring from area hospitals also strained by coronavirus.

“The unifying factor is that they’re almost universally unvaccinated kids,” he said, describing the hospitalized patients.

To explain the timing of the rise in youth hospitalizations, Dr. Conway pointed to many kids still being unvaccinated, mask requirements dropping and a more transmissible omicron variant circulating.

“I think all those things have come together, really, for the perfect storm,” he said.

As of Tuesday, data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services showed more than half of 12 to 17-year-old state residents have gotten a shot or more of the coronavirus vaccine.

Roughly a fifth of 5 to 11 year olds in the state have also gotten vaccinated, including Katie Peterman’s son.

Peterman said she considered the safety of high-risk individuals when choosing to get her son vaccinated. “He’s got a grandma who’s struggling with cancer right now, so making sure she stays safe,” she said.

Speaking with parents who did not get their kids vaccinated, Dr. Conway said he has corrected misinformation about coronavirus in kids and their communities.

“I think one of the sneaky things about kids is that since the majority of them are relatively healthy, they may actually have very little symptoms and yet still be shedding COVID pretty vigorously,” he said.

Dr. Conway noted, unlike adults, kids can suffer from COVID-19 in two ways. The first is with acute respiratory illness, which in mild cases, is like a bad flu. But a month or two after they recover, kids can also have an overactive immune system, which means the body is fighting itself.

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