TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – So far during the coronavirus pandemic, children have largely been spared by COVID-19. But could that be changing?

8 On Your Side looking at the new trends coming out of the Omicron epicenter in South Africa. It’s an important story because the vaccine is not authorized for children under five.

Right now, the question: Is Omicron hitting kids in a different way, more frequently or harder, than the previous variants?

On Friday, South Africa’s Health Ministry held a briefing on Omicron. Medical adviser Dr. Waasila Jassat said she’s seeing more kids under five now hospitalized than before.

“We’ve always seen children not being really heavily affected by the COVID epidemic in the past,” said Dr. Jassat. “..now at the start of this fourth wave, we’ve seen quite a sharp increase across all age groups but particularly in the under 5s.”

“The incidents in those under 5 is now second-highest and second only to the incidents in those over 60.”

Until now, COVID has spared most children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, while the data varies by state, less than 2% percent of all confirmed COVID cases in kids have resulted in hospitalization nationwide.

“Most of the kids under five had a mild illness and got over it,” said Dr. Juan Dumois.

Dr. Dumois is a Pediatric Infectious Diseases physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

“If they are seeing a brand new problem with children under five being affected more severely, and that’s what they’re suggesting, we still need to see more proof of that, but they’re suggesting that then that could be a major problem for us here in the United States,” said Dr. Dumois.

While the data from South Africa appears accurate, Dr. Dumois says it is limited.

For example, it’s possible kids are being admitted as a precaution or that they incidentally tested positive after being hospitalized for other reasons.

“They’ve already published one article on the numbers that they’re seeing but it’s very limited information,” said Dr. Dumois.

While the variant is not in Florida yet, it has been detected in 17 states. At this moment, it’s unclear if this variant is more dangerous for children.

The advice of health professionals in South Africa and Florida: Protect your kids now by making sure everyone around them is immunized.

“What should parents of children under five do?” said Dr. Dumois.

“One thing that they can do is try to protect their kids who are too young to be immunized by what’s called a cocooning effect where you immunize everybody around them.”

The CDC recommends everyone ages 5 and older get a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect against COVID-19.

“It’s interesting that all these young children being admitted, most of them, their parents have not been vaccinated either,” Dr. Jassat said.