BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — As national health officials weigh the authorization of COVID shots for kids younger than five, the omicron variant is making those kids sick — in higher numbers than ever.

More children aged zero to four are becoming seriously ill with COVID. Nationally, hospitalizations among this age group are spiking. Here in Kern, public health data shows nearly 8,500 children — ages zero to 17 — have tested positive since Jan. 1.

Because zero-to-four is the last age group that remains unvaccinated, local pediatrician Dr. Nimisha Amin says the best thing families can do is surround young kids with protection.

“I would say still, in this age group, the vast majority of children are getting infected from parents, as opposed to playdates or other types of outings,” Amin said.

Amin says it’s up to those parents to stay protected, masking and keeping up to date on vaccinations.

Omicron has not been raising the rate of hospitalization for children infected with the virus, but the variant has spread like wildfire, especially among kids. It’s causing numbers of hospitalizations for this last vulnerable age group to surge.

Federal data also shows that hospitalization for non-COVID maladies is up in kids, too. Many of these kids end up testing positive once in the hospital.