DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — With the rise of COVID-19 cases across the nation and in Alabama, the number of hospitalized children infected with the virus has risen to levels never before seen.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that an increase was seen in children who were four and younger.

“Where they have this raspy, barky cough, that we were not seeing with the other variants as much,” Dr. Peily Soon a Pediatrician at Children’s of Alabama said. “We are seeing something called Bronchiolitis, which is a respiratory illness which causes some kids to have some Weezy symptoms.

Medical experts agree this group of kids, is a vulnerable age group since they are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination.

“We are seeing a lot more kids coming in being exposed to COVID,” Dr. Soon said. “It is a lot more exposures and kids coming in with positive cases.”

Nationwide, more than four in 100,000 children, aged four and younger were admitted to hospitals with COVID. Double the rate than last month, alone, and three times the rate, at this time, last year.

As of Sunday, there are 50 children battling COVID-19 in Alabama hospitals, with eight kids in ICUs and two on ventilators.

“You do not need to rush a child to the emergency room for a fever,” Dr. Garland(Gigi) Youngblood, a pediatrician at Children’s of Alabama said. “That is a normal sign of the immune system doing its job and trying to fight something off. Have trouble getting a breath in and out through their mouth and I am not talking nasal congestion alone. Those are very good reasons to go to the emergency room.”

Medical experts said it’s critical to surround kids in this age group with people who are vaccinated to provide them the most protection. For parents who were waiting for more data and were hesitant to get their child vaccinated, medical experts, stressing now is the time.

“We have that data now, this vaccine is safe and effective,” Dr. Youngblood said. “You can still get COVID if you are vaccinated but you are dramatically reducing your risk of any sort of bad outcome.”