Very few children need to hide from Covid, UK study finds

Children and teens are less likely to need hospital treatment or face severe effects

Children on their first day back to kindergarten in Al Baqa’a camp, following Covid-19 school closures. Amy McConaghy/ The National

Most young people have an “extremely low” risk of illness and death from Covid-19 and no need to hide from the virus, researchers behind a large UK study say.

The analysis, which its authors say is the most comprehensive on the topic to date, backs up clinical reports that show children and teens are less likely to need hospital treatment or face severe effects from the virus.

Covid-19 does increase the chance of serious illness in the most vulnerable children – those with complex disabilities and severe medical conditions.

But even in those cases, the risks are smaller than with adults, the study says.

"In England, the highest rates of infection in recent weeks were seen in those ages 15 to 29, with the fastest jump in positive cases week-on-week among children ages 5 to 14,” said Elizabeth Whittaker, of Imperial College London.

"With 68 per cent of adults in the UK having received at least one vaccination and more than 50 per cent fully inoculated, the increase highlights the role children may be playing in transmission.

“It is reassuring that these findings reflect our clinical experience in hospital. We see very few seriously unwell children. We hope this data will be reassuring.”

Although the data only measures the period up to February, the situation has not changed recently with the proliferation of the Delta variant, Ms Whittaker said.

Under 18s in England had about a one in 50,000 chance of being admitted to intensive care with coronavirus in the first year of the pandemic, one study in the analysis found.

Conditions that were previously thought to increase the risks of Covid-related illness, such as active asthma or cystic fibrosis, brought “very little risk", researchers said.

“There’s a general feeling among paediatricians that probably too many children were shielded in the first elements of the pandemic and that there’s probably very few children that need to shield according to these data,” Prof Russell Viner, of University College London.

Prof Viner was senior author of two of the studies involved.

The analysis is based on three papers that have not yet been reviewed by peers. It was led by researchers at UCL, University of Bristol, University of York and the University of Liverpool.

Preliminary findings will be submitted to Britain’s joint committee on vaccination and immunisation, the Department for Health and Social Care and the World Health Organisation to help inform coronavirus policies for under-18s in Britain and elsewhere.

While most children have been spared the worst effects of the disease, showing mild to no symptoms, a small number of severe cases have led to hospital admission and death.

A growing number of children are also suffering from "long-Covid" residual symptoms ranging from extreme fatigue to depression.

With children now driving the spread of cases in many countries, governments have come under pressure to speed up inoculations for them.

The studies on young people did not look at the effects of long-Covid.

The US is one of the few countries offering Covid-19 vaccines to children ages 12 and over, who make up the only group for whom there is clinical data so far.

The UK has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents but has not yet begun to distribute it to them.

Europe’s drugs regulator also authorised the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, although only France and a limited number of other countries are administering it.

Updated: July 9th 2021, 12:48 AM
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