CLEVELAND (WJW) – The number of very young children across the country hospitalized with COVID-19 rose sharply at the start of the new year, according to the latest data from the CDC. 

“It kind of peaked and instead of coming straight back down, what it’s just been doing is holding steady at that very high rate,” said Dr. Amy Edwards, Associate Medical Director of Pediatric Infection Control at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.

The agency reported more than four out of 100,000 children under five admitted to the hospital were infected with COVID as of January 1, double from the month before.

In Northeast Ohio, doctors say the spike came earlier as omicron became the prominent variant before some other states.

“Many of those children are here in the hospital for other reasons and happen to have COVID. There are certainly many of those, but we are also seeing children less than 5 years who do have respiratory symptoms,” said Dr. Camille Sabella, Director for the Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Cleveland Clinic Children’s.

That includes pneumonia, oxygen deficiencies and croup, an infection of the upper airway caused by respiratory viruses.

Still, the overall hospitalization rate among children and teens remains lower than any other age group and the severity of omicron seems milder.

“However, because so many people are getting infected, we’re seeing larger numbers, including larger numbers in the ICU. So just because omicron is a more mild variant, doesn’t mean that it’s like all of the sudden the common cold,” said Edwards.

Right now, children four and under are the only remaining age group not eligible to receive the vaccine, with data expected from Pfizer trials in early spring. 

“To actually vaccinate those 5 to 12 is really, really important, especially with schools now being back in session. The more kids that we can have vaccinated, the better it’s going to be in the long run,” said Sabella.

Doctors encourage those who are eligible to get the shot to cocoon those, like young children, who are still vulnerable. 

“Think of those of us who are parents whose kids can’t be vaccinated,” said Edwards.

Studies have shown the COVID vaccine can greatly prevent children from getting Mis-C, a rare but serious inflammatory condition that can attack the organs.

Doctors also encourage parents to get their kids vaccinated against the flu to further protect them during the viral respiratory season.