According to a series of new studies, deaths from COVID is ‘incredibly rare’ among children.
A comprehensive analysis of hospital admissions and reported deaths across England suggests that COVID-19 carries a lower risk of dying or requiring intensive care among children and young people than was previously thought.
In a series of preprints published on medRxiv, a team of researchers picked through all hospital admissions and deaths reported for people younger than 18 in England. The studies found that COVID-19 caused 25 deaths in that age group between March 2020 and February 2021.
About half of those deaths were in individuals with an underlying complex disability with high health-care needs, such as tube feeding or assistance with breathing.
The studies did not evaluate rates of less-severe illness or debilitating ‘long COVID’ symptoms that can linger months after the acute phase of the infection has past.
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In one of the preprints, the researchers trawled for published accounts of COVID-19 among children and young people, and ultimately analysed data from 57 studies and 19 countries. They then picked apart risk factors for severe disease and death from the data.
Some conditions — including obesity and cardiac or neurological conditions — were associated with a higher risk of death or intensive-care treatment, the researchers found.
But the absolute increase in risk was very small, study author Rachel Harwood, a paediatric surgical registrar at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK, told reporters at a media briefing.
For the other two preprints, the researchers focused on England, drawing on nationwide health-care data on intensive-care admissions and deaths among those under 18 years old. The team found that, of 6,338 hospital admissions for COVID-19, 259 children and young people required treatment in paediatric intensive-care units.
Black children were more likely than their white counterparts to require intensive care, both for COVID-19 and for paediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare syndrome associated with coronavirus infection.
But overall, the need for intensive care was “incredibly rare” among these patients, says study author Joseph Ward of the University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health.
Of 3,105 deaths from all causes among the 12 million or so people under 18 in England between March 2020 and February 2021, 25 were attributable to COVID-19 — a rate of about 2 for every million people in this age range.
None had asthma or type-1 diabetes, the authors note, and about half had conditions that put them at a higher risk than healthy children of dying from any cause.
Taken together, the unusually comprehensive studies could provide some comfort to parents who have been shielding children who they thought might be vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19.
Read reference studies below.
Ward, J. L. et al. Preprint at medRxiv (2021):
Smith, C. et al. Preprint at medRxiv (2021):Deaths-From-COVID-Incredibly-Rare-Among-Children-STUDY-2
Harwood, R. et al. Preprint at medRxiv (2021):Deaths-From-COVID-Incredibly-Rare-Among-Children-STUDY-3
Heidi Ledford. This article was originally published on Nature.