COVID spike fueled by UK children a warning to California – Community News
Covid-19

COVID spike fueled by UK children a warning to California

Unvaccinated adolescents have been the driving force behind a persistent Delta wave in Britain, a potential warning sign for California if immunization rates among this age group don’t improve significantly, health experts warn.

dr. George Rutherford, a UC San Francisco epidemiologist and infectious disease expert, said unvaccinated 10- to 14-year-olds are driving the pandemic in the UK, with cases at these ages significantly higher than in any other group.

Rutherford quoted data from a New York Times analysis, which found that in mid-October, school-aged children in England were 15 times more likely to be infected with the coronavirus than 80-year-olds. The analysis found that England ended mandatory mask wearing in mid-July, and officials recommended no vaccinations for 12- to 15-year-olds until mid-September, four months after they became available for those ages in the US.

The rise in coronavirus cases in the UK has been uneven, rising rapidly from mid-June to mid-July, then declining sharply before the yo-yo peaked at a second peak in mid-October. There have been some signs of decline since the middle of last month, but cases remain well above pre-Delta levels.

A lack of vaccinations among large swaths of adolescents when COVID restrictions were lifted has meant that the virus continues to spread in the UK, Rutherford said at a recent UC San Francisco campus forum.

“This is a result of not vaccinating. And the population they haven’t vaccinated are young adolescents,” Rutherford said. “This is largely driven by younger adolescents, and they have just started a new campaign to vaccinate 12 to 15 year olds. And only 21% of them are currently fully vaccinated.”

The urgency to vaccinate children comes as the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 begins to rise in parts of California. Health officials have long expected that increase to increase as the weather cools and more people gather indoors.

“Unfortunately, what we predicted, when people go in – that [hospitalization] rates could go up — was actually a reality,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, a deputy health officer in Orange County. “And while we have good vaccination rates, we need more people who have not yet been vaccinated to get vaccinated.”

The UK’s challenges show how overall vaccination efforts – while better than California’s – are still not high enough for herd immunity when the ongoing coronavirus transmission is interrupted.

In the UK, 67% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data; California has fully vaccinated 62% of the population. In the US, that rate is 59%, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children and teens have become major sources of coronavirus infection in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Of all the pediatric groups, children ages 5 to 11 started getting the highest number of new weekly coronavirus cases, with youth ages 12 to 17 having the worst number, according to data released by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The change “is likely a result of increasing vaccination levels among teens and [previously] because there are no vaccinations available for those children ages 5 to 11,” Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s Public Health, told the Board of Trustees last week, just before vaccines became available for children in that age group.

But unvaccinated teens have also been big drivers of coronavirus transmission, LA County data shows.

“The role of children in transmitting infections is very real. And the waves of contagion that can arise if children are not protected are also tragically very real,” Ferrer said recently.

According to LA County health data, unvaccinated 12- to 17-year-olds have about a third more cases of coronavirus than unvaccinated younger adults, a group that previously had the most coronavirus infections.

“Unvaccinated teens now have the highest number of cases of any age group” who have long been eligible for vaccination, Ferrer said last week.

Only 65% ​​of youth ages 12 to 17 in LA County are fully vaccinated. In contrast, 73% of LA County residents age 16 and older are fully vaccinated, as are 86% of seniors age 65 and older.

Orange County, where only 62% of 12- to 17-year-olds are vaccinated, sees similar trends. In the summer, older teens had the highest number of coronavirus cases under the age of 18 and under. Recently, children ages 4 to 9 had higher cases than the oldest teens, and had similar cases to middle-aged adults.

The statistics, Chinsio-Kwong said, show that vaccinations work, as vaccinations among teens have helped reduce the number of cases. But they also show how essential it will be to reduce transmission of the coronavirus among children in order to fully get out of the pandemic, experts said.

Many health officials — including Rutherford — have said a significant number of children will need to be vaccinated if communities are to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19.

The relatively large percentage of unvaccinated youth in Los Angeles County “is enough to maintain transmission,” Rutherford said. “And I think statewide, a lot of the increases that we’re seeing numerically are driven by cases in Los Angeles, which seem to fall disproportionately into this age bracket.”

A persistently high transmission level also carries the risk of creating dangerous new variants, such as Delta, which fueled the latest wave in California.

“There is always the possibility that there will be a more devastating variant. And we all had a terrible November, December and January last year,” Ferrer said at a recent briefing.

The number of coronavirus cases in California is now higher than a month ago, when the state averaged about 5,500 new cases per day. Most recently, an average of about 6,300 new cases have been reported daily.

Statewide, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has reached a plateau in the past month, fluctuating largely between 3,500 and 3,800. That’s significantly less than the August 31 Delta peak of nearly 8,400 people hospitalized, but still significantly higher than the pre-Delta low of 915 hospitalizations on June 12.

There is still hope that some areas can avoid a terrible winter swing and that rates will remain stable or possibly fall. “But it requires everyone in our community to be really careful and careful,” Chinsio-Kwong said.

Health officials say that unlike earlier in the pandemic when adults were the main spreaders of the virus, it is now known that children can be effective spreaders of the coronavirus, especially with the rise of the Delta variant.

Chinsio-Kwong said children can be infected and show no symptoms, but still transmit the virus, which can be problematic for family and friends “because you can expose everyone in your household without knowing it.”

“So they have the potential to pass it on to a grandparent who may be at higher risk or to a family member with a weakened immune system,” she said. Meeting safely “does require everyone to be vaccinated if they are eligible,” she added.

Unvaccinated people are at particularly high risk of becoming superspreaders because, when infected, they shed much greater amounts of virus than those who have been vaccinated and contract breakthrough infections, she said.

Unvaccinated Californians are about seven times more likely to contract COVID-19, 10 times more likely to end up in the hospital and 17 times more likely to die from the disease than their vaccinated counterparts, state data shows.

Although children are at low risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 compared to adults, the disease has still become a nationwide cause of death. During the 12-month period ending October 2, 66 children aged 5 to 11 died from COVID-19, a number that — compared to the leading cause of death in children in 2019 — makes the virus the eighth leading cause of death in children of this age. age group.


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