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Fact Check-Doctor’s comment over Omicron risk to children clarified following TV interview

A doctor’s remark regarding the risk to children from the Omicron coronavirus variant, made in a television interview, prompted accusations he was spreading misinformation. Representatives for the physician told Reuters the comments were a misunderstanding of his views.

In a Feb. 2 interview on MSNBC, Dr Ezekiel “Zeke” Emanuel was asked by the news anchor about the merits of COVID-19 vaccination for children. At one point in his reply, he said, “With the omicron variant, kids are either going to get the vaccine, or they’re likely to get a serious condition of omicron.” (here).

Representatives for Emanuel, however, sought to clarify Emanuel’s stance on Omicron and children. In an email to Reuters, a spokesperson said, “Dr. Emanuel misspoke and meant to say a ‘case of Omicron,’ not a ‘serious condition of Omicron.”

The spokesperson added that the overall point he was trying to make is that “children are better off getting the COVID vaccine than getting COVID having not been vaccinated”.

Reuters reported in January (here) that in very young children, U.S. data reviewed by researchers showed Omicron was causing less severe disease than the Delta variant.

The research found children infected during the Omicron surge had a 29% lower risk of emergency department visits, a 67% lower risk of hospitalization, a 68% lower risk of needing intensive care, and a 71% lower risk of needing machines to breathe, compared to children infected with Delta. However, "because of Omicron's increased transmissibility, the overall number of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and mechanical ventilator use in children may still be greater" with Omicron than with Delta, according to a report posted on medRxiv ahead of peer review (here).

A different study examining UK data found that young children and babies were proportionally more likely to be hospitalized with Omicron compared to older children than with previous variants, but the cases were not severe (here).

In early January, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) director Dr Rochelle Walensky said at a press conference they had not yet seen a signal that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was more severe in young children despite an increase of the hospitalizations. "We have not yet seen a signal that there is any increased severity" in kids under 5, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, Walensky said at the time. She said that an increase in cases in general could be one explanation for the surge in hospitalizations (here).

VERDICT

Missing context. Representatives for Zeke Emanuel told Reuters he misspoke in a televised interview that caused reaction online. They said he meant to say unvaccinated children could get a “case of Omicron,” not a “serious condition of Omicron” if they were not vaccinated.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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