The Omicron variant has caused a surge in pediatric cases and hospitalizations. Doctors say we are in the midst of a crisis.
Demand for COVID-19 vaccines in 5 to 11-year-olds was high in November, but it dropped steeply after Thanksgiving. In California, kids 17 and under, make up more than 18% of all COVID cases with that number expected to grow.
"Last week, we saw by far the highest peak during the entire pandemic of kids admitted for COVID," said Dr. Kelley Mead with UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland.
In an effort to reach more parents, Sen. Alex Padilla brought together experts from various children's hospitals throughout the state.
To date, about 67% of California children ages 5 to 11 and 28% of those 12 to 17 remain unvaccinated.
L.A. County appears to have passed peak of omicron surge as new subvariant detected
"We are seeing vaccination rates that are similar to national rates, with vaccination levels being 20%, lower among families of color," said Paul Viviano, President and C.E.O. at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
Doctors deal daily with parents who say they don't trust the vaccine and are concerned about side effects.
Dr. Grace Lee with Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford said the pediatric vaccine data continues to be reassuring. She sits on the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Lee said adverse side effects such as myocarditis occur less frequently in younger children and that not getting vaccinated puts kids at higher risk.
"These serious adverse events are occurring far more frequently after COVID-19 infection than after vaccination. And in fact, vaccination has been shown to be 91% protective against MIS-C in children," she said.
At Loma Linda university Children's hospital the staff is treating 35 pediatric COVID patients -- none of whom were vaccinated. Doctors visit schools to educate students on the vaccine and schedule one-on-one visits with parents.
MemorialCare Miller's Children's Hospital in Long Beach takes a unique approach when addressing kids afraid of needles.
"You do see some last-minute hesitancy and so we've had everything from pet therapy dogs to help soothe the children to our Child Life department," said MemorialCare CEO John Bishop.
Experts said infected kids, even those with mild cases, can go on to battle serious long haul symptoms. COVID-19 has become the 8th leading cause of death in kids ages 5 to 11.