SINGAPORE: Children below the age of 12 are starting to form the majority of COVID-19 cases admitted to hospitals, said the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak on Friday (Jan 21).
"The overall number of children below 12 years of age infected with COVID-19 is higher than the overall number of active COVID-19 cases above the age of 16 who have not yet fully recovered," Associate Professor Mak said at a press conference by the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force.
“So to put things into perspective, our children in this age group in fact are starting to form the majority of cases that are admitted into hospitals for care.”
Both KK Women's and Children's Hospital and the National University Hospital are seeing more children with COVID-19 and non-coronavirus-related respiratory symptoms who need to be admitted, he added.
“Although Omicron is said to affect the upper airways more than the low airways in infected people, with the lower rates of pneumonia setting in, children are very sensitive to inflammation in the upper airways and this can cause wheezing and restlessness,” said Assoc Prof Mak.
“So more children with Omicron infections are being admitted for treatment. But thankfully, they do not require long hospital stays or ICU care."
The increase in admissions have filled up beds in paediatric wards dedicated to children infected with COVID-19, Assoc Prof Mak said.
“The situation is compounded by the increase in numbers of children with non-COVID-19-related community respiratory infections who may also require hospital care,” he said, adding that these children need additional isolation and testing at the start to determine if they have COVID-19.
MOH is watching the number of infections in children “very carefully”, he added, noting that the number of such cases has risen steadily over the last week.
There were 312 new cases involving children below the age of 12 on Thursday, more than double the 120 cases reported the week before on Jan 13, he said.
The majority of cases involving children were able to recover at home, he added.
4 CHILDREN WITH SEVERE INFECTIONS
Providing more figures, Assoc Prof Mak said that of the 14,380 children under the age of 12 who were infected with COVID-19 between Oct 21 last year and Jan 16 this year, four of them - or 0.03 per cent - had severe infections and needed oxygen supplementation or ICU care.
There were 15 children in this group who developed multi-systemic inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a late complication after recovering from COVID-19 infection, he noted.
The incidence rate of MIS-C is about 100 in 100,000 cases, which is “even higher” than what was reported in earlier international studies, said Assoc Prof Mak.
Half of these children with MIS-C needed ICU care, he noted.
“The rate of severe COVID-19 infection in children or having a severe complication after COVID-19 infection is not trivial,” said Assoc Prof Mak.
“It’s important for us to note that while infections in children are generally less severe than in adults, the infections are not mild."
The four children who needed oxygen treatment or ICU care were between less than one year old to nine years old, and all of them were unvaccinated, he said.
“Now with the national vaccination programme, three out of four of them would have been eligible for vaccination. And this reinforces the need to better protect our children against COVID-19 and the risk of a bad outcome,” he added.