Health experts probe increase in COVID cases amongst kids, pregnant women

As health authorities brace for the fourth wave, they’re asking hospitals to get their plans in place and to be ready to increase bed capacity, including in children's wards.

FILE: Gauteng accounts for the largest number of infections with over 1,300 COVID patients being monitored in hospitals. Picture: Pixabay.com

JOHANNESBURG - Health experts are investigating the reasons for the concerning increase in COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions among pre-schoolers and pregnant women.

As health authorities brace for the fourth wave, they’re asking hospitals to get their plans in place and to be ready to increase bed capacity, including in children's wards.

With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, the highest infection rate is still being recorded among people who’re 60 years and older, but the second highest prevalence is being recorded in children younger than five years.

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Gauteng accounts for the largest number of infections with over 1,300 COVID patients being monitored in hospitals.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said it was still too early to determine if the new Omicron variant was spreading faster among children and specifically pre-schoolers.

They acknowledge the sudden rise in admissions could be as a result of doctors being more cautious in the wake of a variant that we still know very little about.

But it could also be because young children have a weaker immune response than older children and adults, so the virus is potentially hitting them harder.

The NICD’s Waasila Jassat on Friday said it was important that parents were vaccinated to protect their children too.

“All those 12 to 18-year-old children who were admitted at the Tshwane hospital were not vaccinated and the age groups below 12 that is not eligible for vaccination, none of their parents, except for three, were vaccinated.”

Children 12 years and older are eligible for a Pfizer vaccine and the Department of Health said it could still be a while before younger children would be given the green light.

WATCH: COVID fourth wave: Increased hospital admissions in children

MORE TRANSMISSABLE THAN DELTA

As the fourth wave of COVID infections loads, scientists are getting more insight into the nature of the Omicron variant.

The NICD said there was early evidence that Omicron was even more transmissible than the Delta variant that drove a gruelling third wave earlier this year.

The NICD’s Michelle Groome said what was worrisome was that there appeared to be some degree of immune escape.

Groome said there was a possibility that those who had been infected with the Beta or Delta variants could be re-infected by Omicron even when vaccinated.

“People tend to be hospitalised two-three weeks after their initial diagnosis while we see the mild spectrum now, we can’t say much about disease severity while waiting for additional data in the next two weeks.”

Scientists maintain vaccination is still the best defence against severe illness and ending up in hospital.