Most young people face an “extremely low” risk of illness and death due to COVID-19 and have no reason to protect against the virus, according to researchers behind a large British study.
The analysis, as its authors say, is the most comprehensive on the topic to date, backing up clinical reports showing that children and teens are less likely to be hospitalized or have serious effects of the virus. COVID-19 is likely to increase the risk of serious illness in the most vulnerable children – those with complex disabilities and severe pre-existing medical conditions – but even in these cases the risk is less compared to adults.
In the UK, the highest infection rates in recent weeks were seen between the ages of 1
“It is reassuring that these findings reflect our clinical experience in the hospital – we see very few seriously ill children,” said Elizabeth Whittaker, senior clinical associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Imperial College London, in a statement. “We hope this data will be reassuring.”
Although the data only measure the period up to February, the situation has not changed recently with the spread of the delta variant, Whittaker said.
Under 18s in England had approx. 1 in 50,000 chances of being admitted to intensive care with coronavirus during the first year of the pandemic, a study in the analysis shows. A number of conditions previously thought to increase the risk of COVID-related disease, such as active asthma or cystic fibrosis, posed “very little risk,” researchers said during a press briefing.
“There is a general feeling among pediatricians that probably too many children were protected in the first elements of the pandemic and that there are probably very few children who need protection under these data,” Russell Viner, professor in Child and Adolescent Health at University College London, said during the briefing. He was a senior author of two of the studies involved.
The analysis is based on three papers that have not yet been peer reviewed, led by researchers at UCL, the University of Bristol, the University of York and the University of Liverpool. Preliminary findings will be submitted to the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, the Department of Health and Social Care and the World Health Organization to help inform screening and vaccination policies for under 18s in the UK and elsewhere, the statement said.
While most children have been spared the worst effects of the disease – showing mild or no symptoms – a small number of serious cases have led to hospitalization and death. A growing cohort of children also suffers from so-called long COVID – residual symptoms after infection ranging from extreme fatigue to depression. As children are now spreading cases in many countries, governments are under pressure to speed up vaccination for younger people.
The studies on young people did not look at the effect of long COVID, according to the statement.
The United States is one of the few countries to offer COVID-19 vaccines to children aged 12 and over – the only group for which clinical data are available so far. The UK has approved the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE shot for young people, but has not rolled it out yet. Europe’s Drug Regulator also approved the Pfizer vaccine, although only France and a limited number of other countries administer it.
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