Coronavirus antibodies 'detected in 99% of English secondary school pupils'

Eight in 10 children in primary schools were shown to carry antibodies

The groups behind the study of coronavirus antibodies in school pupils in the UK also asked their parents about their intentions to have their children vaccinated. PA
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Nearly all secondary school age children in England carry coronavirus antibodies, new data has shown.

A study carried out by the School Infection Survey suggested an estimated 99 per cent of secondary school pupils and 82 per cent of primary pupils tested positive for virus antibodies between March 3 and 22 this year.

The figures released on Monday showed there was “significantly higher” antibody levels in both primary and secondary pupils in the March round of the study compared to tests carried out the month before. Ninety-seven per cent and 62 per cent of secondary and primary pupils respectively tested positive for the antibodies during screening in February.

The rise in schoolchildren attaining natural defences against the coronavirus comes as infection numbers rise across the UK.

The study also found that 78 per cent of children aged between four and seven tested positive for antibodies, and showed that the proportion of primary school parents who would be “unlikely” to vaccinate their child has risen.

“There has been a small increase in secondary school students testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies, around 99 per cent compared to 97 per cent in the second round of testing in January and February 2022,” Dr Patrick Nguipdop-Djomo, co-chief investigator of the study, said.

“This rise in antibody prevalence was larger in primary school students, increasing from 62 per cent in the last round of testing to 82 per cent in this round.

“It is not surprising that we are seeing this increase in antibody prevalence in primary schools, given it is consistent with the high rates of children infected with the Omicron variant during the spring term.”

The amount of parents who are 'unlikely to vaccinate their primary school-aged children against Covid-19 has increased, a study has shown. PA

In total, 10,109 pupils from 116 primary schools and 52 secondary schools took part in the third round of antibody testing as part of the SIS project, which is jointly led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Office for National Statistics, and the UK Health Security Agency.

The test was based on the collection of oral fluid, a method which is more suitable than blood tests for children to carry out by themselves. However, a mouth swab is less sensitive than a blood test, which means that results cannot be used to measure prior infection over a long time frame.

Researchers also delved into how parents were feeling about getting their children vaccinated against the coronavirus. The study found that fewer than one in 10 (6 per cent) of primary pupils had received at least one vaccine shot during March 2022.

The proportion of primary school pupils who were not vaccinated and whose parents said they were “unlikely” to have their child treated increased from 24 per cent in the first round of tests in December 2021 to 36 per cent in March 2022.

The proportion of secondary pupils’ parents who would be “unlikely” to vaccinate their child remained unchanged.

Dr Nguipdop-Djomo said the findings suggest that the majority of secondary pupils who said in December that they were likely to become vaccinated “did indeed get the vaccine”.

The number of parents of primary school students who said they were unlikely to vaccinate their child has increased by 12 per cent, he said.

Many said they did not think their child needed the vaccine or they were waiting to see how the vaccine worked.

“This underlines the importance of a better understanding of the impact of Covid-19 in younger children to help parents in their decisions and provide appropriate public health messaging including both the safety and benefits of vaccination.”

Fiona Dawe, deputy director, Wider Surveillance Studies at the ONS, said the increase in children testing positive for coronavirus antibodies is likely to be driven by the spread of the Omicron variants which have become the dominant strains in the UK “as well as the continuing vaccine programme for secondary school-aged pupils”.

Experts believe the increase in coronavirus cases in the UK is fuelled by the Omicron variants BA. 4 and BA.5.

The latest data from the ONS showed one in 40 people in England are thought to have had the virus in the week ending June 18 — up from one in 50 the week before. The figures showed a week-on-week jump from 1.13 million infections to 1.36 million.

Updated: June 29, 2022, 5:28 AM