Of those killed by covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, more than 75 percent have been Hispanic, black, and American Indian children, even though they represent 41 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency collected data from health departments across the country.
The disproportionate deaths among young people echo pandemic differences that are well documented among adults. Previous studies have shown that the death toll from the virus is twice as high among people of color under the age of 65 as for white Americans. Colored people also disproportionately constitute “excessive deaths”
Racial differences among children are in some ways even sharper.
Of the children and teens killed, 45 percent were Hispanic, 29 percent black and 4 percent Native American.
“This is the strongest evidence yet that there are profound racial differences in children, just as there are in adults,” said John Williams, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. “What it should mean for people is that steps like wearing a mask are not just about protecting your family and yourself. It’s about racial justice. ”
A key factor may be underlying health inequalities among minority children and young adults. About 75 percent of those who died had at least one underlying condition, the most common being asthma and obesity – two conditions that occur disproportionately in minority adolescents.
“On the one hand, the small total number of deaths is reassuring. You talk about hundreds of thousands of infected children, and only 121 killed, ”said Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s. “At the same time, it is difficult to ignore the proportions in which minority groups die.”
The CDC report pointed to underlying social differences that minority children are more likely to experience than their white peers: overcrowded living conditions, food and housing insecurity, parents who are important workers and unable to work from home, wealth and educational gaps and difficulties with access to health care due to lack of family resources, including insurance, child care, transportation, or sick leave.
In the report, CDC officials conclude that what is needed is for health departments, medical providers and communities to be “mobilized to remove systemic barriers that contribute to health inequalities.”
In addition to social differences, the racial gap in deaths suggests that genetic or biological factors may be at play, Williams said. Certain diseases have been shown to affect certain breeds more severely. Before a vaccine was developed, e.g. Pneumococcal meningitis disproportionately black children, Williams said, even after taking into account social determinants. Similarly, Haemophilus influenzae type b (also known as Hib) was known to disproportionately affect Indians.
The CDC report stressed that the relatively low death rate for children was recorded when almost all schools were closed and that it is unknown how the reopening of schools could affect these rates.
Tuesday’s CDC report reinforced another prominent feature of the virus – that it becomes increasingly deadly with age. Among children, only 10 percent of deaths occurred in infants aged 1 or under. About 20 percent of pediatric cases were between the ages of 1 and 9. The remaining were between 10 and 20 years old.
Since the virus’s emergence, the way it attacks the elderly and leaves the very young relatively unharmed has been a central and marvelous mystery to researchers. In this respect, the new coronavirus behaves differently from other viruses, such as seasonal flu. These other viruses are especially dangerous for the very young and very old.
Finding out why children are less affected, researchers thought, could help them understand how and why the virus diseases and kills other age groups. While there are no definitive answers yet, new evidence suggests that a key protein – called the ACE2 receptor, which coronavirus uses to enter cells – is present in lower amounts in children’s airways than in adults.