Children, teenagers and young adults appear to be more affected by the B.1.1.7 variant of covid-19 initially detected in the UK, then in South Africa, British research reports. Still, the data should not cause alarm to parents, say certain experts, who explain that the youngest members of society generally only have mild symptoms.
A recent study carried out by researchers from the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh and Public Health England, has found a small but statistically significant shift towards under 20s being more affected by the B.1.1.7 variant of covid-19. This may seem like a worrying observation at a time when schools are progressively reopening around the world.
Speaking of this latest "Variant Of Concern," or VOC, identified in the UK before being found in other countries worldwide, the scientists explain that: "Available ... data indicate a shift in the age composition of reported cases, with a larger share of under 20-year-olds among reported VOC than non-VOC cases."
While the research tells us a little more about the B.1.1.7 strain, the findings should also be taken with caution. The researchers themselves warn that the "mechanism" that might underlie this change is as yet unexplained. Moreover, they theorize that this change in age distribution could be linked to the fact that the spread of this variant was observed when the country was in lockdown but schools were open.
What do we know about this variant?
There is currently relatively little available data on the B.1.1.7 strain, although the majority of scientists agree that this new variant -- which the British researchers also refer to as "Variant of Concern 202012/01 (VOC)" -- appears to spread more quickly than other variants.
In light of the publication of this data, and media reports of increased admissions of children and young people with covid-19, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has sought to reassure parents and caregivers about the spread of the new variant among children and young people.
"Children's wards are usually busy in winter. As of now we are not seeing significant pressure from COVID-19 in paediatrics across the UK. As cases in the community rise there will be a small increase in the number of children we see with covid-19, but the overwhelming majority of children and young people have no symptoms or very mild illness only. The new variant appears to affect all ages and, as yet, we are not seeing any greater severity amongst children and young people," explained professor Russell Viner, president of RCPCH, in a statement to the media.