20 healthy children died of Covid in England during first two years of the pandemic, Government analysis finds amid calls to vaccinate babies
- UK Health Security Agency researchers examined data on Covid child deaths
- Results showed that 81 died because of the virus and 21 were healthy
- They said risk of fatal Covid among under-20s continues to be ‘very very low’
Twenty healthy children in England died of Covid during the first two years of the pandemic, official figures show.
Health chiefs today held the statistics up as proof that youngsters face a ‘very, very low’ risk from the virus.
It comes amid a never-ending row over whether Britain should approve vaccines for babies.
Authorities have so far held out despite massive pressure, due to concerns that the benefits don’t outweigh any potential risks. Children rarely get seriously ill with Covid and the majority are thought to have already been infected.
Covid data for u-20s: The graph shows Covid confirmed (dotted red line) and estimated (solid red line) infections among under-20s in England, along with Covid deaths (black bars) and non-Covid deaths (blue bars) between March 2020 and December 2021
Which children can get the vaccine?
All children aged 5 and over can get a first and second dose of a Covid vaccine.
They are given either jabs by Pfizer or Moderna.
Over-5s with a severely weakened immune system can get a third dose.
High-risk children can also get booster jabs, if needed.
But vaccines have yet to be approved for under-5s.
Do children get ill with Covid?
Most children only experience mild symptoms after being infected with Covid.
Just one in 300,000 children who test positive for Covid die, according to UK Government data.
And the risk of being hospitalised and getting admitted to ICU is similarly low.
But the risk is higher to children with serious underlying conditions.
Doesn’t the vaccine have complications?
One of the main fears is that the vaccines have been linked to cases of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle.
But experts insist the majority of cases are mild, and that rates in Britain are lower than in Israel and the US, where concerns were first sparked.
The virus itself can also cause the condition.
Covid vaccines approved for use in the UK have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.
They can cause some side effects in children, but not everyone gets them. Any side effects are usually mild.
Researchers at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) trawled through data on all 6,790 deaths that occurred among under-20s in England between March 2020, when the virus reached Britain, and December 2021.
This included 185 among people who died within 100 days of testing positive for the virus.
Fewer than half (81) died directly because of the virus, according to results published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
This means Covid was, in total, responsible for 1.2 per cent of all the deaths.
The figure is slightly lower than the number of under-nines who die in accidents per year in England and Wales (90), according to separate data from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Of the 81 Covid deaths, three-quarters had underling conditions that put them at higher risk, such as neurodisabilities and immunocompromising conditions.
Twenty had none.
Marta Bertran, a UKHSA epidemiologist, and team estimated that just 0.7 out of every 100,000 youngsters who got infected died.
This figure — the equivalent of one in every 143,000 — will be higher among those at risk.
They warned that one of the current metrics to measure Covid deaths — those that occurred within 30 days of a positive test — ‘substantially overestimate fatalities’ in children and young people.
The researchers said: ‘These findings confirm that death due to Covid remained rare in children and young people even as new variants of the SARS-Cov-2 virus emerged.
‘They also highlight which children might be at greater risk of Covid death, which could help inform parents, clinicians and policymakers about prevention through vaccination, for example, and seeking early treatment.’
They added: ‘With the implementation of Covid vaccination for adolescents and, more recently, for 5 to 11-yea-olds, it is hoped that those at increased risk will be protected against severe and fatal Covid.’
Study co-author Professor Shamez Ladhani, paediatric infectious diseases specialist at St George’s Hospital in London and an epidemiologist at the UKHSA, said: ‘Our national surveillance in England continues to show a very very low risk of death due to Covid in children and teenagers, with most fatalities occurring in those with multiple and life-limiting underlying conditions.’
It comes as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is assessing an application from Moderna to approve its vaccine for children aged six months to five-years-old.
Officials claimed the jab won’t be approved unless it meets ‘stringent standards of safety, quality and effectiveness’.
The US and EU have already approved the vaccine for the age group. But only over-fives can currently get Covid vaccines in the UK.
Some experts, such as the University of Bath’s Dr Kit Yates, have argued that children should be given the vaccine to avoid infection, long Covid and time off school.
However, other leading experts say the risk to children — after recurrent waves of infection that have infected virtually all of them — is so low that it’s not worth offering them a jab.
They say the tiny risk of harm from the vaccine outweighs the benefit of immunising them and a rollout to younger groups would be ‘unnecessary’.
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