AbstractBackgroundRecent surges in coronavirus 2019 disease (COVID-19) is attributed to the emergence of more transmissible severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants of concern (VOCs). However, the relative severity of SARS-CoV-2 VOCs in children is unknown.MethodsThis retrospective single-center cohort study was performed at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, academic free-standing children’s hospital. We included all children ≤ 18 years-old diagnosed with COVID-19 between October 15th, 2020 and August 31st, 2021 and whose SARS-CoV-2 isolate was sequenced using the Illumina platform. For each patient sample, we identified the SARS-CoV-2 lineage, which was assigned to one of the following groups: Non-VOC, alpha VOC, beta VOC, gamma VOC, or delta VOC. We measured frequency of 5 markers of COVID-19 severity: hospitalization; COVID-19 pharmacologic treatment; respiratory support; intensive care unit admission; and severe disease as classified by the COVID-19 World Health Organization (WHO) Clinical Progression Scale (severe disease; score ≥ 6). A series of logistic regression models were fitted to estimate odds of each severity marker with each VOC (in comparison to non-VOCs), adjusting for COVID-19 community incidence and demographic and clinical co-variates.ResultsDuring the study period, 2,025 patients tested positive for SARS-CoV-2; 1,422 (70.2%) had sufficient viral load to permit sequencing. Among the 499 (35.1%) patients whose isolate was sequenced, median (inter-quartile range) age was 7 (1,12) years; 256 (51.3%) isolates were a VOC: 96 (37.5%) alpha, 38 (14.8%) gamma, and 119 (46.5%) delta. After adjusting for age, Black race, Hispanic ethnicity, high-risk medical conditions, and COVID-19 community incidence, neither alpha nor delta was associated with severe COVID-19. Gamma was independently associated with hospitalization (OR 5.9, 95% CI 1.6-21.5, p=0.007), respiratory support (OR 8.3, 95% CI 1.5-56.3, p=0.02), and severe disease as classified by the WHO Clinical Progression Scale (OR 7.7, 95% CI 1.0-78.1, p=0.05).ConclusionsCompared to non-VOC COVID-19 infections, the gamma VOC, but not the alpha or delta VOCs, was associated with increased severity. These data suggest that recent increased in pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations are related to increased delta COVID-19 incidence rather than increased delta virulence in children.