Experts urge testing, vaccination as Quebec sees record number of kids in hospital with COVID-19

·4 min read
Experts recommend COVID-19 vaccination for children as soon as they're eligible. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press - image credit)
Experts recommend COVID-19 vaccination for children as soon as they're eligible. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press - image credit)

As the highly transmissible Omicron variant sweeps across the province, infecting thousands of Quebecers daily, health experts say it's no surprise they're seeing high infection rates among young children in hospital.

On Christmas Day, 12 Quebec children under the age of 10 were admitted to hospital with COVID-19, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. According to Quebec's Health Ministry, 23 children under the age of 10 are currently in hospital with the virus, and none are adequately vaccinated.

However, experts say children are not necessarily in hospital due to a severe case of COVID-19.

"A lot of children who are being admitted for other reasons are testing positive for COVID-19 by PCR test at the time of their admission, even though COVID-19 is not the actual cause or reason for them being hospitalized," said Dr. Jesse Papenburg, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Children's Hospital.

Submitted by Owen Egan
Submitted by Owen Egan

He said the high number of children with COVID-19 in hospital is a sign of the high levels of community transmission Quebec is seeing across all age demographics.

According to the Quebec Institute of Public Health (INSPQ), children under 10 years old account for more than 14 per cent, or 30,214 cases, of COVID-19 infections during the current fourth wave. Some 56 per cent of children ages five to 11 have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Caroline Quach, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist and medical microbiologist at CHU Sainte-Justine, said the good news is that children's hospitals haven't hit capacity and most young COVID-19 patients only require care for two to three days.

"For now, Omicron is less severe than Delta, which is good news. But given the overwhelming number of people that are positive, in the end, you might still end up with an absolute increased number of admissions," she said.

To date, children nine years old and younger account for 3.7 per cent of hospitalizations in the fourth wave, totalling 149 cases.

Hospitalizations show transmissibility of variant

Dr. Earl Rubin, director of the pediatric infectious disease unit at the Montreal Children's Hospital, says with the "astronomical" level of community spread of Omicron, parents shouldn't panic that some children are being hospitalized.

Submitted by Earl Rubin
Submitted by Earl Rubin

"There are going be increased numbers of hospitalizations and increased visits, but it's not a function of severity — it's a function of how prevalent [Omicron] is in the community," Rubin said.

He said the most important thing is for older, more vulnerable populations that are frequently around both vaccinated and unvaccinated children — who can act as vectors — to protect themselves.

"If they can all be triply vaccinated, it may not prevent them from getting infected, but hopefully will prevent them from getting too sick and [overwhelming] the hospitalization system," he said.

Despite the high number of breakthrough cases, vaccination is still strongly encouraged for its "protection against severe disease," said Papenburg.

Children with cold-like symptoms should get tested

As Omicron often presents as a typical winter cold or the flu, experts are advising parents to get their child tested if they have symptoms such as a runny nose or cough, and keep them isolated pending a negative rapid or PCR test.

Experts are asking parents to use their judgment about the use of emergency departments.

"Only come to the hospital if you have signs that are concerning," Papenburg said, citing severe symptoms of COVID-19 such as a fever lasting more than three days, dehydration and difficulty breathing. Any baby with a fever should also be evaluated by a health-care professional.


Dr. Valérie Lamarre, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at CHU Sainte-Justine, says now is not the time to introduce a newborn to the rest of the family.

"These babies need to be protected from respiratory infections, including COVID-19," she said.

As Omicron runs rampant in the community, Papenburg said limiting risks of infection and transmission, such as distancing, masking and limiting contacts, is critical.

Because all kids are at risk of getting infected, he said, particularly those that are under the age of 12 who have only received one or no doses of the vaccine, it's also important that they get vaccinated once they're eligible.

"It's the first step toward immunity," he said.

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