In July the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) ruled out vaccinating most children from Covid-19 as the minimal health benefits of offering universal Covid-19 vaccination to children did not outweigh the potential risks. They approved vaccination for children aged 12 to 15 if they were in a high-risk group with those aged 16 and 17 at higher risk already offered a vaccine under existing rules. On 04 August guidance was updated to include all 16 and 17-year-olds as part of the vaccination rollout. So what does the data show when looking at Covid-19 in children?
Data on deaths
Across England and Wales up to the week ending 23 July 2021, 141,813 deaths had occurred with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate. Of these 44 were among people aged 0 to 19 and data from NHS England suggests that around 80% of deaths within this age group had an underlying medical condition. This indicates less than 10 people aged 0 to 19 have died having tested positive for Covid-19 with no underlying condition. To put the number of deaths into context, for the most recent week alone across England and Wales there were 82 registered deaths from all causes among people aged 0 to 19.
While these are numbers, remember each death is a tragedy, even more so among young people, and we must not forget that. But the numbers do help understand the relative risk to various groups in society from the virus. You can view me talking about this data with Mike Graham on Talk Radio.
Compared to adults, children are far less at risk of coronavirus. Many infected do not develop symptoms and those that do tend to have a mild illness. But what do we know about children who catch the virus?
This is where the situation becomes a little less clear. For the most recent wave of Covid in the UK we saw increases in hospital admissions for patients who had Covid and were under the age of 20. However, we saw a dramatic rise in the number of cases in the community among this age group. If there are more people in the population with Covid, then you will inevitably have more people admitted to hospital with Covid.
Data released last week suggests almost 1 in 4 patients admitted to hospital in Wales were for reasons other than Covid, but they had tested positive for it. Sadly, this data does is not by age group, but we know Covid is far more likely to cause a serious illness among older people. You can deduce there will be a higher proportion of younger patients in hospital with Covid, but not because of it, than patients who are older. There is a data gap on how many children are getting seriously ill because of Covid.
Rates of Covid-19 have been high among those aged 15 to 19 and the nature of this age group means they have lots of social interaction which can spread Covid more widely. I previously wrote explaining that rises in cases in younger people were not translating to the same rises in older people, which is a success story of the vaccine rollout, where it was protecting the vulnerable.
A BBC report quoting new research provides some insight into the children who have had Covid-19. The study looked at 1,734 children aged 5 to 17 and symptoms reported via the UK Zoe Covid Study app. Some of the key findings:
- Fewer than one in 20 (4%) of those with Covid experienced symptoms for four weeks or more, with one in 50 (2%) having symptoms for more than eight weeks.
- On average, older children were typically ill for slightly longer than primary school children, with those aged between 12 and 17 taking a week to recover while for younger children the illness lasted five days
- The most common symptoms reported were headaches and tiredness. Other common symptoms included a sore throat, and loss of smell.
The latest research suggests that children who become ill with coronavirus rarely experience long-term symptoms, with most recovering in less than a week. Some clinicians have said they have seen children admitted with Covid with breathing difficulties. How big a group this is I do not know, so it is difficult to assess the relative size of the problem. We know that no vaccination comes without risks and when looking at the latest research on illness, along with the data on deaths, it points to a low risk of Covid-19 for children.
Should an individual choose to have a vaccine?
I believe this decision is a personal choice, but to make it an informed decision, all the data needs to be available to do just that.