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Covid-19 hospitalizations soar past the Delta peak and creep toward the all-time high

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Covid-19 hospitalizations soar past the Delta peak and creep toward the all-time high

A health care worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a child in Oklahoma City in 2021.

More ICUs are running out of space and more children are getting hospitalized as the Omicron variant asserts its dominance of Covid-19 cases.

On Tuesday, 112,941 Americans were hospitalized with Covid-19, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

That far exceeds peak hospitalizations during the Delta variant surge -- nearly 104,000 in early September.

It's also creeping toward the pandemic record of people hospitalized with Covid-19 in a single day -- 142,246, on January 14 of last year.

And more children are getting hospitalized with Covid-19 now than ever before.

For the week ending Saturday, an average of 574 child Covid-19 patients were admitted to hospitals every day, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Unfortunately, this is the consequence of a highly transmissible variant -- the Omicron variant," US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN on Tuesday.

In just four weeks, Omicron jumped from an estimated 8% of new Covid-19 infections to an estimated 95% of new infections, according to the CDC.

And more hospital intensive care units are nearing capacity.

Nationwide, 1 in 5 hospitals with an ICU said its beds in that unit were at least 95% full last week, according to DHHS data. And more than a quarter of ICU beds nationwide were occupied by Covid-19 patients.

The surgeon general reiterated what many doctors have reported this winter: The vast majority of hospitalized Covid-19 patients are not vaccinated and boosted.

"Remember, those vaccines work. Those boosters are more important than ever before," Murthy said.

And millions more children heading back to school may soon be able to get a booster shot.

FDA authorizes Pfizer booster doses for kids ages 12 to 15

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant helped spur the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize booster doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for children 12 to 15, FDA Acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said Monday.

For everyone ages 12 and up, the FDA also shortened the time needed between the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and the booster dose -- from six months to five months.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky supported reducing the time needed before a booster dose. The agency's vaccine advisory board is due to meet Wednesday to discuss expanding booster eligibility to 12- to 15-year-olds.

The FDA has also authorized booster doses for some children ages 5 to 11 who are immunocompromised, including those who have received an organ transplant.

'Staggering numbers' of Omicron cases at pediatric hospital

At the nation's largest pediatric hospital, Covid-19 hospitalizations have quadrupled in just the past two weeks -- fueled by the Omicron variant, the most contagious strain of novel coronavirus to hit the US.

"We have staggering numbers here from this Omicron surge already," said Dr. Jim Versalovic, pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.

"We shattered prior records that were established during the Delta surge in August."

Sequencing showed 90% of the hospital's recent Covid-19 patients had been infected with the Omicron variant, Versalovic said.

Like the surgeon general, Versalovic said vaccinations are critical to minimizing Covid-19 hospitalizations.

Yet more than 80% of school-age children in the Houston area are unvaccinated, Versalovic said.

And more than a third of the hospital's recent Covid-19 patients have been under age 5. "Unfortunately, those children still do not have access to a vaccine," Versalovic said.

In New York, "We are seeing more Covid now than we have seen in previous waves," pediatrician Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez said.

"And it's worrisome that the worst of the winter here has not passed. And we are bracing for what is still to come."

Doctors: Don't underestimate the impact on children

Pediatricians have acknowledged that some patients with Covid-19 may have actually sought treatment for another condition and happened to test positive for coronavirus.

But "it's clear that the majority of cases either have Covid-19 as a primary factor or as a significant contributing factor to their hospitalization," said Versalovic, the pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children's.

And the recent record-setting number of pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations -- along with the severe illness among some children -- means the current surge shouldn't be ignored.

"We would be foolish to keep minimizing Covid-19 in children at this point in the pandemic," Bracho-Sanchez said.

Early studies suggested Omicron causes less severe disease than the Delta variant. But Omicron is much more contagious.

And early research suggested Omicron may cause more upper airway problems, unlike previous strains that caused lower airway problems.

Upper airway complications can be more dangerous for young children than for adults, Bracho-Sanchez said.

"We cannot treat the airways of children like they are the airways of adults," she said.

"And for us pediatricians, we know that respiratory viruses can lead to ... croup and bronchiolitis, that inflammation of the upper airways that does get in children in trouble."

The-CNN-Wire

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN's Deidre McPhillips, Ben Tinker, Miguel Marquez, Matthew Hilk, Maggie Fox, Katherine Dillinger and Jen Christensen contributed to this report.

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