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Question

Does omicron affect children differently than other COVID variants, and how concerned should I be?

Natasha Burgert, MD, FAAP

Answer

​​​Omicron has proven to be the most contagious COVID-19 variant of the pandemic so far. The main difference with Omicron is the sheer number of kids getting sick at the same time.

Without vaccines and boosters for younger children, it feels like an agonizing wait for many families. As pediatricians, we always worry about the youngest among us when illnesses are spreading through communities. When children are not yet vaccinated, their immune systems are not as well-equipped to deal with exposure to harmful germs. Plus, their unique anatomy and physiology makes many diseases more severe. 

For example, a recent study linked prior infection with COVID-19 to an increased risk of diabetes. And we don't yet know the full extent of how COVID affects children in the long-term.

More variants, but more tools

While there are new variants of the virus, we now have more tools. We know that wearing a well-fitting face mask, using physical distance, and getting COVID vaccines and boosters​ all reduce the risk of serious illness for everyone. There are more ways to test for the virus and treatments to help protect some people who are at serious risk if they get sick. We can use these tools together and surround our young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems, to keep them safe during this difficult time.

Short-term impact not always small for families

With the increase in COVID cases among children, there has been a sharp rise in the number of children hospitalized. From what's known so far, most children who contract COVID and develop more serious symptoms have recovered. When hospitals and clinics across the nation have a rapid increase in patient visits and admissions, families who need non-emergency care can experience delays. Also children and teens with appendicitis emergencies, people in traffic accidents, sprains, strains and broken bones, can see delays in receiving treatment.

At the same time, I've never seen an illness that is able to so quickly affect all members of a family. Since it's so tough to take care of a sick kid when you are not feeling well yourself—it's making this wave feel particularly daunting for families.

We can get through this

Of course, parents are concerned. And frustrated. And tired. But our children are resilient. Nearly two years into the pandemic, we've made a lot of progress against COVID-19. Vaccines have been a major turning point, cutting the risk of severe illness from the virus.

Until everyone is protected, we can do a lot to help children during the pandemic. We're continuing to advocate for needed resources for these younger children (including vaccines and supporting their mental health).

​Don't hesitate to talk with your child's pediatrician about keeping your as healthy as possible during COVID-19.

More information

Natasha Burgert, MD, FAAP

Natasha Burgert, MD, FAAP is a board-certified general pediatrician in Overland Park, KS. Within the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), she is a member of the Council on Communications and Media. If she is not in clinic, you will find her regularly sharing evidence-based child health information combined with her personal experience on KCKidsDoc.com and on Twitter @doctornatasha. She is fueled by her husband and two young children.

Last Updated
1/21/2022
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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