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COVID-related baby hospitalizations increasing

COVID-related baby hospitalizations increasing

King County health officials join CDC in urging pregnant people to vaccinate and boost

The number of babies needing hospitalization due to COVID-19 infection is increasing according to a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month. In fact, infants under 6 months of age have one of the highest COVID-related hospitalization rates of all pediatric age groups.

In response, the CDC and experts at local and state health departments are once again urging expectant moms to get vaccinated as a first step in protecting their newborns and infants from the disease. 

Population at high risk

“Pregnant people are at high risk for severe infections and complications during pregnancy from COVID-19 as well as from the flu,” says Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health: Seattle & King County. “I highly recommend that anyone who is pregnant make sure they’ve received their updated COVID-19 bivalent booster as well as their seasonal flu shot.” 

In its most recent COVID infection child case count, released Nov. 16, the Washington State Department of Health reported that 1,164 children across the state contracted COVID-19 between Oct. 22, 2022 and November 5. Of those cases, children aged 0 to 3 had the highest rates of infection –101.4 cases per 100,000. The rate of infection among all children is currently on the rise in Washington, as are hospitalizations. 

Vaccination in pregnancy : Double protection 

The CDC cites two reasons for its recommendation of prenatal or early postpartum vaccination: First, infant immune systems are more “naïve” or immature than the immune systems of older children and adults. In other words, they are not as strong or able to fight off viruses and disease. Second, COVID-19 vaccines are not yet approved for babies less than 6 months old.

“These vaccinations don’t just protect the pregnant mother, but will also help protect the baby once it’s born, because protective antibodies transfer from the pregnant mother to the baby,” says Duchin. According to the CDC report, a mother receiving two doses of a monovalent mRNA COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy is more than 50 percent effective in preventing COVID-19-related hospitalization for their infant. 

CDC Director Roc​​helle Walensky echoed Duchin on Twitter on November 9: “If you are pregnant, getting a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy can protect both you and your baby.” 

The push for bivalent booster in pregnancy

CDC officials and Duchin stress that pregnant people should receive not just the primary 2-shot COVID-19 vaccine series, but the newest bivalent COVID-19 booster as well. The newest booster is coded to address Omicron and other variants of the virus. According to an interview with Walensky published by Bloomberg, turnout for bivalent boosters has been low among adults of childbearing age (24-49) across the county. At the same time, the CDC has recorded low vaccination rates among children 6 months to 5 years of age.

Low booster rate a cause concern

In King County more than 70 percent of the eligible population (ages 6 months and up) has received the primary series. But, officials at Public Health: Seattle & King County report that only 28% of the eligible King County population has received the bivalent booster, far lower than health officials hoped heading into the holidays and the cold weather season. Given the rise of other respiratory viruses in the past several weeks, including flu and RSV, they are worried about what another COVID surge might bring. 

“Our hospitals, particularly pediatric hospitals, are overwhelmed right now with respiratory virus patients,” says county health department spokesperson Kate Cole.

Tracking the next surge

Another surge is probable. In October, National Public Radio reported that researchers here are closely watching a new crop of immunity-doging Omicron variants. And, they are paying attention to perhaps the biggest signal of another possible COVID sweep in the U.S. this winter: The surge that began to roll through Europe earlier this fall. Several countries began re-instituting lockdowns in early November.

“In the past, what’s happened in Europe often has been a harbinger for what’s about to happen in the United States,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told NPR. ““So I think the bottom line message for us in this country is: We have to be prepared for what they are beginning to see in Europe.”

A delicate time

Helping prevent COVID infection before a baby leaves the womb is an important part of that preparation, Duchin says.

The first few months of life are such a delicate time – making sure you’re up to date on your flu and COVID-19 vaccinations is an easy step to help keep yourself and your new baby healthy,” he says. “And, it’s safe and effective to get both the COVID-19 booster and the flu shot in the same appointment.”

From birth to vaccination eligibility at 6 months of age, the CDC and other health watchdogs urge parents to use other common COVID-19 protections like masks and social distancing to further protect newborns and infants ineligible for vaccination.

Info about sites for free COVID boosters and vaccines available at: kingcounty.gov/vaccine

Read more at Seattle’s Child:

“Does my child need the new COVID booster?”

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.