When the JCVI was considering extending their recommendation for the Covid-19 vaccination programme to 16 and 17-year-olds, I previously wrote a blog describing what the data showed on risk from the virus. Since this, we have more research on the potential impact of long Covid and the JCVI deciding not to recommend the vaccine for healthy 12 to 15-year-olds. This updated blog takes a further look at the latest numbers.
Data on deaths
Across England and Wales up to the week ending 20 August 2021, 144,013 deaths had occurred with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate. Of these, 17 were among people aged 0 to 14 and data from NHS England suggests that around 80% of deaths are linked to an underlying medical condition. This indicates less than 4 people aged 0 to 14 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 54 registered deaths from all causes among people aged 0 to 14.
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 help understand the relative risk to various groups in society from the virus. You can view me talking about this data with Nana Akua on GB News.
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 from NHS England suggests almost 1 in 4 patients admitted to hospital 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.
New research on “long Covid”
A BBC report last week quoted new research providing insight into children who have had Covid-19. The study concludes the risk of long Covid is much lower than many had previously feared. University College London surveyed 11- to 17-year-olds testing positive for coronavirus in England between September and March. The research suggests somewhere between 2% and 14% still had symptoms caused by Covid 15 weeks later. There was little evidence huge numbers had sought NHS help for symptoms that had left them bedridden or unable to attend school. The survey also identified a significant proportion of children experiencing symptoms related to long Covid in children who had never tested positive, simply because they are common in the general population.
Critics would highlight the survey ran until March and the delta variant has infected many children since then, so follow-up research is important.
The JCVI has stopped short of recommending vaccines for healthy 12 to 15-year-olds and thankfully, unlike in some adults, Covid-19 poses almost no fatal risk to them. The latest research on long Covid suggests the problem is not as significant as made out previously and I would err on the side of caution and follow the JCVI advice.
I know of many parents who want their child to have a vaccine, but also many parents who oppose it. Should the Government press on with offering vaccines for all 12 to 15-year-olds, then this is a personal choice. It is not for me to advise, but for a parent/child to make an informed decision, data and evidence should be available to do just that.