As the Omicron variant continues to sweep across the U.S., especially in the Northeast, unvaccinated people of all ages are at increased risk — including children. The U.S. is averaging 260 pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations a day, up nearly 30% from last week.
Health officials say pediatric hospitalizations in New York City rose nearly five-fold from the start of December. Almost all of those children were unvaccinated.
"We need to get child vaccinations up. We need to get them higher than they are, particularly in the 5- to 11-year-old age group," said Mary T. Bassett, the acting commissioner of the New York State Department of Health.
In New York state, roughly 27% of 5- to 11-year-olds are vaccinated. Nationwide, that number falls to about 23%.
"The vaccine is so much safer than getting the virus itself," New York Presbyterian chief pediatrician Dr. Sallie Permar told CBS News correspondent Meg Oliver. "And so giving your child the vaccine keeps them safer than letting them get infected with this virus without any immunity from a vaccine."
While hospitals typically see a rise in pediatric admissions this time of year, Permar says parents should take Omicron seriously.
The symptoms are "serious enough to be admitted to the hospital, which again is an indication that this is not just a disease of adults," she said.
Asked what schools should do about the spike in cases among kids, Permar said, "I think we know so much more about how to keep our children safe, and we also learned how devastating it is to keep children out of school, so I think we should use all the tools we have. Implement vaccination for all the school kids, also use testing, also use masks and our typical hand-washing and social distancing to keep kids in school. Even with this rise in cases."
New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced Monday she plans to urge all school superintendents to keep their classrooms open. She says she's prepared to send whatever additional resources they need so in-person learning is not interrupted.