UK: Research Shows COVID-19 Deaths Incredibly Rare Among Children

Writer: Lois

A person disinfects an empty classroom in a school in France. Photo: Getty Images

Researchers have found that from March 2020 to February 2021, COVID-19 caused 25 deaths out of the 3,105 deaths from all causes among the 12 million or more people under 18 in England. This means a rate of around 2 COVID-19 deaths for every one million youth under 18.

The authors state that none of those who died had asthma or type-1 diabetes, and around half had an underlying complex disability with high healthcare needs, like tube feeding.

These findings suggest that children and young people are less likely to die or require intensive care from contracting the virus than previously feared.

The researchers published their studies as preprints (version of a scholarly or scientific paper before formal peer review and publication in a peer-reviewed journal) on medRxiv1–3.

One preprint involved published accounts of COVID-19 among children and young people worldwide and analysed data from 57 studies and 19 countries. The researchers then considered risk factors for severe disease and death from the data.

The other preprints focus on nationwide healthcare data on intensive-care admissions and deaths among youth under 18 years old across England. Of the 6,338 total hospital admissions for children and young people infected with COVID-19, 259 required treatment in paediatric intensive-care units.

Black children were more likely to require intensive care than white children for COVID-19 and paediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome. The latter is associated with coronavirus infection. However, according to study author Joseph Ward from the University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, these patients rarely needed intensive care.

The researchers discovered that conditions like obesity and cardiac or neurological disorders were linked with a higher risk of death or intensive-care treatment. However, study author and paediatric surgical registrar Rachel Harwood told a press briefing that the absolute increase in risk was minimal.

The studies do not mention less-severe illness or the “long COVID” symptoms that may persist months after the infection, including loss of taste or smell. Other studies show that long COVID may occur in children, but this is less likely than in adults.

“The low rate of severe acute disease is important news, but this does not have to mean that COVID does not matter to children,” stated Danilo Buonsenso, a paediatrician at the Gemelli University Hospital in Rome.

“Please, let’s keep attention — as much as is feasible — on immunisation,” he continued.

“When adults are immunised, fewer children are infected. . .We need to do as much as possible to reduce COVID-19 infection in children.”

 “There’s a general feeling among paediatricians that probably too many children were shielded during the first wave of the pandemic,” said Russell Viner, the President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

 “Shields are very leaky,” said Elizabeth Whittaker, an infectious-disease specialist at Imperial College London.

“The shields have not been perfect and have probably caused more stress and anxiety for families than benefit.”

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