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Monday, December 6, 2021

Teenagers are acquiring Covid-19 at rates similar to adults

A report by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases has shown that unlike the earlier strains of Covid – the SARS Covid-2 and the earlier strain of Covid from 2019, the delta variant, which is more pronounced in the third wave, is affecting children as much as it does adults.

The report found that some groups among children experience higher rates of illness and that among all deaths in individuals aged younger than 19 years, 38.4% were among adolescents aged 15-19 years and 31.8% were aged under one year.

“Children with underlying conditions made up 19.3% of children admitted with Covid-19 but 56% of those who died. The most commonly reported underlying conditions among those admitted were chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, HIV and tuberculosis (active and previous). HIV, diabetes and tuberculosis were common among those who died,” reads the study.

Tendesayi Kufa-Chakezha, a medical doctor by training and PhD Epidemiology from the University of Amsterdam, said since the onset of the third wave to the peak, the fraction of all Covid-19 cases aged 19 years or younger was averaging 14.6% as opposed to around 9% in the first and second waves.

Kufa-Chakezha said half of the cases in South Africa were occurring in older teens and adolescents of ages 15-19, bringing the case rate in this group on par with adults older than 19 years.

READ: Teacher union questions return to school amid strong third wave Covid-19 infections

Cheryl Cohen, co-author of the study and co-head of the Centre for Respiratory Disease and Meningitis, National Institute for Communicable Diseases said the Delta variant could have a greater predilection for children, although there is not yet any conclusive data to support this.

Cohen said South African children are not yet eligible for Covid-19 vaccination and may not be for a while.

According to research, some countries in Europe and North America have opened up vaccination to children between 12 and 16 years even though coverage in this age group is still low.

Cohen said as more children are vaccinated in these countries, more data on side effects and effectiveness will be collected and many lessons will be pulled to inform rollout for children in the country.

“Lessons will be learnt and used in the South African setting,” she said.

Adding that there is a case for the expedited vaccination of children with underlying conditions and older teens and adolescents based on burden of cases and hospitalisations in these two groups respectively.

Cohen said reasons children have not being prioritised at the moment in South Africa could include the lower risk of disease as well as the need to prioritise the elderly.

READ: Schools remain shut in 19 countries including South Africa

“Also, the country still has limited information on the efficacy and safety of the vaccines in children. This, as well as the limited number of vaccines which are licensed for use in children may be other reasons,” she said.

Sibongile Walaza, Medical Epidemiologist at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and Lecturer at the School of Public Health at Wits University said some groups among children experience higher rates of illness and these reasons bear for more discussion.

“The increased case rates in older teens and adolescents, at rates similar to adults older than 19 years in the third wave, requires monitoring,” said Walaza.

Adding that the higher rates among children could be due to generally increased testing in children in the third wave, “more testing would pick up more cases, including mild or asymptomatic ones,” she said.

“Or increasing vaccination rates among adults, leaving younger individuals contributing more cases,” said Walaza.

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