Children’s extremely low risk confirmed by study

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As reported by BBC news, the overall risk of children becoming severely ill or dying from COVID is extremely low, a new analysis of COVID infection data confirms

Data from the first 12 months of the pandemic in England shows 25 under-18s died from COVID. Those living with multiple chronic illnesses and neuro-disabilities were most at risk, though the overall risk remained low. The conclusions are being considered by the UK’s vaccine advisory group. Currently, under-18s are not routinely offered COVID vaccines, even if they have other underlying health conditions that put them at risk.

Scientists from University College London, and the Universities of York, Bristol and Liverpool say their studies of children are the most comprehensive yet anywhere in the world. They checked England’s public health data and found most of the young people who had died of COVID-19 had underlying health conditions:

  • Around 15 had life-limiting or underlying conditions, including 13 living with complex neuro-disabilities
  • Six had no underlying conditions recorded in the last five years – though researchers caution some illnesses may have been missed
  • A further 36 children had a positive COVID test at the time of their death but died from other causes, the analysis suggests
  • Though the overall risks were still low, children and young people who died were more likely to be over the age of 10 and of Black and Asian ethnicity.

Researchers estimate that 25 deaths in a population of some 12m children in England gives a broad, overall mortality rate of two per million children. Current data shows some 128,301 people in the UK have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test since the pandemic started.

Separately, scientists considered all children and young people in England who had an emergency hospital admission for COVID up to February 2021:

  • Some 5,800 children were admitted with the virus, compared to about 367,600 admitted for other emergencies (excluding injuries)
  • About 250 required intensive care
  • There were 690 children admitted for a rare inflammatory condition linked to COVID, called paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS-TS)
  • Though the absolute risks were still small, children living with multiple conditions, those who were obese, and young people with heart and neurological illnesses were most at risk

Lead researcher Prof Russell Viner said complex decisions around vaccinating and shielding children required input from many sources – not their work alone. But he said if there were adequate vaccines, their research suggested certain groups of children could benefit from receiving COVID jabs.

He added: “I think from our data, and in my entirely personal opinion, it would be very reasonable to vaccinate a number of groups we have studied, who don’t have a particularly high risk of death, but we do know that their risk of having severe illness and coming to intensive care, while still low, is higher than the general population.”

He said further vaccine data – expected imminently from other countries, including the US and Israel – should be taken into account when making the decision.

Dr Elizabeth Whittaker, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Imperial College London, said it was encouraging they were seeing very few seriously unwell children in hospital.

She added: “Although this data covers up to February 2021, this hasn’t changed recently with the Delta variant. We hope this data will be reassuring for children and young people and their families.”

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