Researchers behind a large UK study have found that the majority of young people face an “extremely low” risk of illness and death from COVID-19 and have no need to shield themselves from the virus.
The study backs up clinical reports that show children and teens are less likely to be hospitalized 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 existing medical conditions, but even in those cases, the risks are smaller compared with adults.
The highest rates of infection in England, in recent weeks, were seen in those aged between 15 to 29, with the fastest jump in positive cases week-on-week among children ages 5 to 14. With 68 percent of adults in the UK have received at least one shot and over 50 percent fully vaccinated, the increase highlights the role children may be playing in transmission.
“It is reassuring that these findings reflect our clinical experience in the hospital, we see very few seriously unwell children. We hope this data will be reassuring,” Ms. Elizabeth Whittaker, senior clinical lecturer in pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Imperial College London, said in a statement.
Even though the data only measures up to February, Ms. Whittaker states that the situation hasn’t changed recently with the rapid growth of the delta variant. One study in the analysis found that in England, those under the age of 18 had about a 1-in-50,000 chance of being admitted to intensive care with coronavirus during the first year of the pandemic.
A number of conditions that were previously thought to increase the risks of COVID-19-related illness, like active asthma or cystic fibrosis, brought very little risk, researchers pointed out.
“There’s a general feeling among pediatricians 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,” Mr. Russell Viner, a professor of child and adolescent health at University College London, said.
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 hospitalization and death. A growing cohort of kids is also suffering from so-called long COVID-19 residual symptoms after infection 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 younger people.
The analysis is based on three papers that haven’t yet been peer-reviewed, led by researchers at UCL, University of Bristol, University of York and the University of Liverpool. The studies on young people didn’t look at the impact of long COVID-19, according to the statement.