PREPRINT: COVID infection severity in children under 5 years old before and after Omicron emergence in the US


Importance Pediatric SARS-CoV-2 infections and hospitalizations are rising in the US and other countries after the emergence of Omicron variant. However data on disease severity from Omicron compared with Delta in children under 5 in the US is lacking.

Objectives To compare severity of clinic outcomes in children under 5 who contracted COVID infection for the first time before and after the emergence of Omicron in the US.

Design, Setting, and Participants This is a retrospective cohort study of electronic health record (EHR) data of 79,592 children under 5 who contracted SARS-CoV-2 infection for the first time, including 7,201 infected between 12/26/2021-1/6/2022 when the Omicron predominated (Omicron cohort), 63,203 infected between 9/1/2021-11/15/2021 when the Delta predominated (Delta cohort), and another 9,188 infected between 11/16/2021-11/30/2021 when the Delta predominated but immediately before the Omicron variant was detected in the US (Delta-2 cohort).

Exposures First time infection of SARS-CoV-2.

Main Outcomes and Measures After propensity-score matching, severity of COVID infections including emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, and mechanical ventilation use in the 3-day time-window following SARS-CoV-2 infection were compared between Omicron and Delta cohorts, and between Delta-2 and Delta cohorts. Risk ratios, and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated.

Results Among 7,201 infected children in the Omicron cohort (average age, 1.49 ± 1.42 years), 47.4% were female, 2.4% Asian, 26.1% Black, 13.7% Hispanic, and 44.0% White. Before propensity score matching, the Omicron cohort were younger than the Delta cohort (average age 1.49 vs 1.73 years), comprised of more Black children, and had fewer comorbidities. After propensity-score matching for demographics, socio-economic determinants of health, comorbidities and medications, risks for severe clinical outcomes in the Omicron cohort were significantly lower than those in the Delta cohort: ED visits: 18.83% vs. 26.67% (risk ratio or RR: 0.71 [0.66-0.75]); hospitalizations: 1.04% vs. 3.14% (RR: 0.33 [0.26-0.43]); ICU admissions: 0.14% vs. 0.43% (RR: 0.32 [0.16-0.66]); mechanical ventilation: 0.33% vs. 1.15% (RR: 0.29 [0.18-0.46]). Control studies comparing Delta-2 to Delta cohorts show no difference.

Conclusions and Relevance For children under age 5, first time SARS-CoV-2 infections occurring when the Omicron predominated (prevalence >92%) was associated with significantly less severe outcomes than first-time infections in similar children when the Delta variant predominated.

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