A new study finds that teens are at increasing risk for severe Covid cases, and that among those recently hospitalized for Covid, nearly a third entered intensive care and five percent were placed on a ventilator. “I am deeply concerned by the numbers of hospitalized adolescents and saddened to see the number of adolescents who required treatment in intensive care units or mechanical ventilation,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky in a statement.
The study, published in a CDC journal, suggests that the rising rates of hospitalization among adolescents — which had been falling early in 2021 — could be attributable to the circulation of particularly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants or perhaps “the larger numbers of children returning to school.”
The stark new warning comes in contrast to the guidance CDC earlier offered, specifically that “children and adolescents who have COVID-19 are more commonly asymptomatic (never develop symptoms) or have mild, non-specific symptoms” and that “Children are less likely to develop severe illness…from COVID-19.”
The study relied on a small sample size, including just over 200 teens hospitalized for Covid. Nearly 70 percent of this cohort had an underlying condition (most commonly obesity or a lung condition like asthma), but the study warned that “nearly 30% of these adolescents had no reported underlying medical condition, indicating that healthy adolescents are also at risk for severe COVID-19–associated disease.” About two thirds were teens of color, the study found, consistent with “an increased incidence of COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority populations and signifying an urgent need to ensure equitable access to vaccines for these groups”
The CDC director, Walensky, is pushing vaccination as the solution; the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has recently been approved for all Americans 12 and older. “Much of this suffering can be prevented,” she said. “Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic.” But Walensky added that, in the meantime, face-coverings remain essential, advising young people who have not gotten their shots to “continue to wear masks and take precautions when around others who are not vaccinated to protect themselves, and their family, friends, and community.”