Under-18s are facing 'one of their worst periods of pandemic' as hospital admissions rise

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CARDIFF, WALES - FEBRUARY 23: A general view as a teacher holds a creative writing class at Roath Park Primary School on February 23, 2021 in Cardiff, Wales. Children aged three to seven began a phased return to school on Monday. Wales' education minister Kirsty Williams has said more primary school children will be able to return to face-to-face learning from March 15 if coronavirus cases continue to fall. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
Experts have voiced concerns over rising infection rates in schools. (Getty)

Experts have voiced concerns over a worrying increase in the number of children getting COVID, as well as the number of under-18s being admitted to hospital with the virus.

Professor Christina Pagel, mathematician and professor of operational research at University College London, warned that children under 18 are facing "one of their worst periods of the pandemic" in terms of COVID cases and admissions.

She tweeted: "While hospital admissions in older adults continue to fall (excellent), admissions in under 18s continue to climb – especially 6 to 17 year olds.

"Overall numbers *much* smaller than adults, but kids are facing one of their worst periods of the pandemic for cases and admissions."

The chart below shows the seven-day average of new COVID hospital admissions for 0-5 year olds and 6-17 year olds in England.

New daily COVID hospital admissions, seven-day average (Yahoo News UK/Flourish/UK government data)
New daily COVID hospital admissions, seven-day average (Yahoo News UK/Flourish/UK government data)

The peak of hospital admissions for both these age groups came during the school summer holidays in late July 2021. Some 33 0-5 year olds were admitted to hospital with COVID on 25 July, and 34 6-17 year olds were admitted on 22 July.

Daily hospitalities are once again increasing for under 18s, and are close to the highest levels seen since the start of the pandemic.

On 4 October, the most recent day for which complete data is available, 20 0-5 year olds and 28 6-17 year olds were admitted to hospital with COVID. 

It comes as recent stats showed that the number of children out of school for COVID related reasons hit over 200,000 in the fortnight to 30 September.

Amid concerns over the rise in infection rates in schoolchildren, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said mask-wearing for pupils could return to schools under contingency plans to keep the virus at bay over winter.

Read more: Could pupils be facing a longer school day? The key arguments explored

Pagel's concerns were shared by Professor Tim Spector, head of the department of genetic epidemiology and leader of the COVID symptom study app at King’s College London.

He warned that the vaccination programme was offering "too little too late" given the rising number of infections in children.

He tweeted: "Less than 1.5 percent of kids vaccinated so far ….too little too late as 1 in 30 are currently infected."

Commenting on school absences, Dr Zubaida Haque, a member of Independent Sage, said: "204,000 children were absent from state schools in England for COVID-related reasons (this excludes close contacts). In secondary schools 1 in 7 children were out of school for COVID-related and other reasons.

"Where is the national outcry?"

According to ONS figures for the week ending 26 September, infection rates were highest among secondary school children compared to other age-groups.

ONS figures show infection rates in children are rising, though they remain lowest for hospital admissions and deaths. (ONS)
ONS figures show infection rates in children are rising, though they remain lowest for hospital admissions and deaths. (ONS)
Public Health England figures show the rising
Public Health England figures show the rising hospital admission rates in different age groups. (Public Health England)

The ONS suggested that the high numbers of infection rates in young people reflected the vaccination programme, saying: "The age differences in current rates compared with those seen in mid-January likely reflect the age prioritisation of the vaccination programme in England."

Read more: Anti-vaccine website taken down after sending hoax COVID NHS letters to schools

Officials had set the autumn half-term as a target to invite those all 12 to 15-year-old's in England for a vaccine, but reports have suggested that the programme is being delayed - in part by high infection rates and absences in schools. 

Watch: Chief medical officers recommend jabs for children

Deepti Gurdasani, Senior Lecturer in epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London, said: "Didn't the government say that they wanted to keep children in school at all costs?

"You can't say you want to minimise educational disruption while opposing even the most basic mitigations. The only way to keep children safe and schools open is multilayered mitigations and vaccination."

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22: Felix Dima, 13, from Newcastle speaks with a nurse before he receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Excelsior Academy on September 22, 2021 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  The Excelsior Academy on Denton Road in Newcastle is the first school in the North East and North Cumbria to offer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination to healthy 12-15-year-olds where parents have provided consent. This week the NHS and local School Age Vaccination Services begin immunising children aged 12 to 15 on advice from the UK's four Chief Medical Officers, in a move to reduce the disruption to education caused by COVID-19. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) confirmed that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and effective for 12 to 17-year-olds. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Experts have suggested that the vaccine rollout in children has been too slow. (Getty)

England has fallen behind other countries in rolling out a vaccine to young people following its approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for 12 to 15-year-olds in May. 

By mid-September, Denmark had vaccinated most 12 to 15-year-olds with at least a single dose, while Spain had done the same for 12 to 19-year-olds.

France and Germany have also been rolling out the vaccine to younger age groups, with over half of French 12 to 17-year-olds fully vaccinated by last month, while Norway also extended its vaccine rollout to children aged 12 to 15.

Earlier this year, Professors Chris Whitty and Jonathan Van-Tam warned that it was "inevitable" that children would be infected as they made the case for vaccinating those aged 12 and over.

Appearing before the Commons education committee, Prof Van Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, told MPs: "We are not looking at a theoretical risk of children, 12 to 17, becoming infected. I think it is really quite inevitable that they will be at some point.

"The point of infection, if left to happen, is not of their choosing, and may be at a point in their educational careers, thinking particularly of GCSEs and A-levels when it is extremely inconvenient to be laid low, albeit for a short number of days, with cough, fever, and respiratory symptoms."

Watch: COVID-19 hospital admissions figures 'look scary' but NHS is ready to 'absorb' rise, trust chief says

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