- In England, 25 under-18s died from Covid, equating to two per million
- Those who had underlying conditions and obese were most at risk
- Scientists said the findings should inform vaccine and shielding plans for kids
PUBLISHED: 19:00 EDT, 8 July 2021
Children face an ‘extremely low’ one in 500,000 risk of dying from the coronavirus, researchers have found.
In England, just 25 under-18s have died from Covid, which equates to around two in a million, experts said.
Young people with pre-existing medical conditions, like heart disease and cancer, and severe disability, which can include cerebral palsy and autism, have a higher chance of becoming seriously ill from the virus.
But the scientists – from three top British universities – said this risk is no higher then the risk from flu.
Teenagers, black and obese children were also at higher risk from dying with Covid but these numbers were still very low, they found.
Researchers said their findings – which were published in three separate papers today – will help inform vaccine and shielding policy for under-18s.
They will submit the studies to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the Department for Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The findings come amid a row over whether No10 should expand the vaccine roll-out to youngsters.
JCVI and SAGE advisers have previously voiced concerns about giving the jabs to children until more safety data was available.
The studies were led by researchers at University College London, the University of York and the University of Liverpool.
One of the studies is the first to determine the number of children who died from Covid rather than with the virus. It concluded that the virus killed 25 children in England.
The coronavirus contributed to 0.8 per cent of the 3,105 deaths in children from all causes in the first year of the pandemic.
During the same period, 124 children died from suicide, while 268 died from trauma, showing that Covid ‘is rarely fatal’ in children, the researchers said.
The found the under-18s who died were more likely to be teenagers than younger children, showing that the risk from the virus increases with age.
Higher proportions of Asian and black children died from the virus but these deaths were ‘still extremely rare’, they said.
More than 75 per cent of the children who died had chronic conditions, while two thirds had more than one underlying condition and 60 per cent had life-limiting conditions.
Six of the children who died were not recorded as having an underlying health problem, but the scientists said they may have had undiagnosed illnesses.
The paper states that the ‘extremely low’ risk of death means removing children from their normal activities like school and social events ‘may prove a greater risk than that of SARS-CoV-2 itself’.
A second study found that 251 young people in England were admitted to intensive care with Covid from March 2020 to February this year, which equates to around a one in 50,000 risk.
Of these patients, 91 per cent had one or more underlying health conditions.
They also found one in 2,000 were admitted to hospital with Covid, equating to almost 6,000 children.
They also found there is a one in 40,000 risk of children being admitted to care with a rare inflammatory syndrome from called PIMS-TS, which is caused by Covid.
Fewer than five children died from PIMS-TS.
They said their findings show that ‘very few’ children admitted to hospital in England due to Covid or PIMS-TS developed serious disease or died.
They concluded that older and ethnic minority children, as well as those who had conditions like diabetes, asthma and heart diseases were more at risk, which is ‘very similar’ to patters of hospital admissions seen in adults.
A third study, which was led by Dr Rachel Harwood at the University of Liverpool, supported the findings of the other papers.
The researchers found that of the children admitted to hospital with Covid, those at the highest risk of severe illness or death are teenagers, have heart or brain conditions, two or more underlying condition, or are obese.
The scientists recommended that these groups should be considered a higher priority for vaccinating and protective shielding.
Professor Russell Viner, a senior author on two of the studies and professor of adolescent health at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said: ‘These new studies show that the risks of severe illness or death from SARS-CoV-2 are extremely low in children and young people.
‘Those young people at higher risk are those who are also at higher risk from any winter virus or other illness – that is, young people with multiple health conditions and complex disabilities. Covid-19 does however increase the risks for people in these groups to a higher degree than for illnesses such as influenza (seasonal flu).
‘Our new findings are important as they will inform shielding guidance for young people as well as decisions about the vaccination of teenagers and children, not just in the UK but internationally.’
The findings come as No10 deliberate their approach on vaccinating children.
Professor Calum Semple, a member of SAGE, said last month that more data was needed on the benefits of children getting the jab and it must be ‘incredibly robust’ owing to their low risks from the virus.
He said a push to vaccinate youngsters would be to reduce community transmission, ‘rather than primarily to protect them’.
Professor Semple said: ‘The knowledge around safety in children is growing, but I would say it’s not as robust as it needs to be if there was to be blanket vaccination of children who themselves are not at risk of very severe disease.
‘That’s the crux of the matter. If you are going to vaccinate children to protect society, that is a fair decision that can be made, but you want to do that with full knowledge of the safety data.’
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