Unvaccinated children from 5 to 11 years old were hospitalized with Covid at twice the rate of vaccinated children during the winter Omicron variant surgeon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday.
The study was the latest to show that vaccines help keep children out of the hospital with Covid, even though the shots are losing some of their potency at stopping infections from the Omicron variant.
But the CDC report, based on data from hospitals serving about 10 percent of the US population across 14 states, also offered some of the strongest evidence to date that racial disparities in childhood vaccination may leave Black children more exposed to severe illness from Covid.
Black children in the 5-to-11 age group accounted for about a third of the unvaccinated children in the study, the largest of any racial group, and made up roughly a third of the overall Covid-related hospitalizations within the age group.
Census Bureau estimates from 2020 that Black children make up about 14 percent of US residents from 5 to 11 years old. But it is not clear whether the areas covered in the CDC study are representative of the population, making it difficult to precisely measure any disparities.
“Increasing vaccination coverage among children, especially among racial and ethnic minority groups, is disproportionately affected by Covid-19, which is critical to preventing Covid-19-associated hospitalization and severe outcomes,” the CDC study said.
The agency has not reported nationwide data on vaccinated children of race or ethnicity, making it difficult for researchers to examine gaps in protection.
Seven states and Washington, DC, report race data for vaccinated children from 5 to 11. Black children were inoculated at lower rates than most white children, but not all, of those states, an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found this month. Asian children tended to have the highest vaccination rates, the analysis found, and Hispanic children were inoculated at rates lower than or similar to those of white children.
Among all US residents, Black people remain less likely than white people to be vaccinated, though the gap has grown smaller than the course of the vaccination campaign.
Children are protected in far smaller numbers: Only about a third of children from 5 to 11 have at least one vaccine dose, the lowest rate of any age group. And the pace of vaccinations in that age group has slowed down in recent weeks.
The CDC study covered the period from mid-December to late February, during which about 400 children were hospitalized with Covid at the selected hospitals participating in the study. Almost 90 percent of them were unvaccinated. The report said that roughly a third of the children had no underlying medical conditions and a fifth were admitted to an intensive care unit.
Among the children who tested positive for the virus before or during their hospitalization, three-quarters of them were admitted for Covid, rather than other illnesses, the CDC said.
The agency said Omicron appeared to cause less severe illness in children than the Delta variant, as was the case for adults, but that Omicron was so contagious and infecting so many children that they were hospitalized at higher rates during the Omicron surgeon.
Infected children are less likely to become seriously ill, than with adults. But because the youngest children (under age 5) do not yet qualify for vaccination and older children are inoculated at much lower rates, children are overall less protected from the virus than adults.