Ministers should consider vaccinating children against coronavirus to protect them from getting ‘long Covid’, top scientists said today.
Dr Anthony Costello, a paediatrician and member of Independent SAGE, warned experts are still baffled by the long-term complications of the disease, which is not thought to pose an immediate threat to youngsters.
He described children as a ‘very special risk area’ because there was a chance they may face effects that last for decades even if they don’t get sick to begin with.
Children are not currently on No10’s vaccine priority list because the jabs approved are only proven to block symptomatic illness and severe bouts of the disease that may prove fatal, neither of which seem to affect under-18s.
Youngsters barely get ill and statisticians have calculated they face a greater risk of being hit by lightning than dying of Covid.
Dr Costello said that studies suggest the Government should consider vaccinating children to protect them from long Covid.
He said researchers had found that 15 per cent of secondary school pupils and 13 per cent of children at primary school still had coronavirus symptoms five weeks after getting infection.
Ministers should consider vaccinating children against coronavirus to protect them from getting ‘long Covid’, Dr Anthony Costello (pictured right), a paediatrician and member of Independent SAGE, has warned. Dr Deepti Gurdasani (left), an epidemiologist at Queen Mary, University of London, said schools are ‘not magical places where transmission doesn’t happen’
Dr Costello told the All-Party Parliamentary Group’s meeting on coronavirus today: ‘The worry is this: we don’t really understand long Covid and what it means.
‘We don’t know how long this virus lasts in people’s bodies and even in their brains.’
There are 19million children in the UK, Dr Costello said, and if they were left unprotected and lockdown rules lifted, half of them could catch the virus and millions could suffer long Covid.
‘We don’t absolutely know what the impacts are going to be, long term,’ he said.
‘Should we be vaccinating children, even if they’re the lowest priority group? This needs some new consideration.’
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist at Queen Mary, University of London added: ‘We don’t understand long Covid yet… given that, it would be completely negligent to put children at risk.
Children’s commissioner backs jabs for teachers
The Children’s Commissioner today insisted teachers should receive Covid-19 vaccinations after the first on the priority list as calls grow for schools to reopen.
Anne Longfield said about 500,000 teachers and 500,000 support staff could all be given the jab ‘in a couple of days’ given recent data on UK vaccination capacity.
She added that this would only mean the under-70s would have to wait an extra 48 hours while teachers got their vaccinations in order to get schools reopened.
Mrs Longfield added that headteachers have told her it is vital to carry out rapid lateral flow tests on pupils to ‘help ensure schools stay open for good this time’.
‘This may not be a short-term illness for many people, it may be a chronic illness.’
Dr Costello’s comment comes as Boris Johnson has laid forth plans to get schools reopened from March 8.
With cases and deaths easing and the rollout of jabs surging ahead of schedule, the Prime Minister is said to have ordered a ramping up of preparations for children to get back in classrooms.
But experts fear the date he has set it too early.
SAGE adviser Professor Calum Semple today warned the UK was ‘nowhere near’ being able to reopen schools because daily infections are still too high, even though they are falling rapidly.
He added that No10’s advisory panel has always said ‘schools should be the last thing to close and first thing to open’ because children are ‘not the primary driver of this outbreak’. He also warned that they are ‘suffering dreadfully’ from home-learning.
But scientists today claimed evidence was ‘very clear’ that shutting schools is one of the best ways at bringing down the R rate – the average number of people each coronavirus patient infects.
Dr Gurdasani said schools are ‘not magical places where transmission doesn’t happen’.
She said in the meeting: ‘The idea that children are less susceptible was based on very limited and flawed data.
‘With much better studies now we know that children play a very, very important role in transmission.
‘Looking at data from around the world it’s very clear that school closures is one of the most effective measures for bringing down R.
‘Children are two times more likely to bring Covid into the household than an adult… and they are two times more likely to infect other people in the household than adults.
‘Overall, they contribute a lot to transmission in schools and in the community, that is very clear in global evidence – schools are a huge link.’
She added: ‘It was very clear during the last lockdown, when schools were open, cases of the new variant were rising at an R of 1.5 – it was only closing schools that brought R below one.’
Boris Johnson discussed the state of play in the coronavirus crisis with Cabinet this morning – with most ministers dialling in remotely but Priti Patel in the room
Dr Gurdasani said closing schools could cut the R rate by as much as 20 per cent.
Dr Costello, added: ‘The evidence I’ve seen suggests children are not far off the same as adults at transmitting the infection, so we have to treat them as such.’
Long Covid strikes one in ten under-50s who are infected with Covid-19, according to estimates.
But studies have suggested women are 50 per cent more likely to suffer with persistent symptoms than men.
Experts warn the NHS could face crippling demand from long Covid patients when the pandemic comes to an end, given that millions of Britons have already caught the disease.
Researchers from the group Patient-Led Research for Covid-19 investigated the impact of long Covid by surveying more than 3,700 patients complaining of persistent symptoms.
They found 1,665 – or 45 per cent – said they had a ‘reduced’ work schedule than before they became unwell.
And 825 – or 22.3 per cent – were not working due to health conditions, although the researchers didn’t say whether this was due to the virus or an underlying factor present before they were infected.
Up to 317 – or eight per cent – said their symptoms had become severe enough for them to be admitted to hospital, and 1,312 – or 35 per cent – said they had visited A&E due to symptoms.
NHS England guidance warns Covid-19 sufferers should call an ambulance if their symptoms get worse or last for longer than seven days.
They add severe shortness of breath, coughing up blood, blue lips or face, feeling clammy and cold, collapsing, becoming difficult to rouse, feeling confused and not visiting the toilet often are also warning signs patients should be heading to A&E units.
But in the survey participants didn’t say what symptoms had led to them attending hospital.
More than half of all patients surveyed – 2,454 or 66 per cent – were still suffering at least one symptom of coronavirus six months after their infection.
WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19?
Most coronavirus patients will recover within a fortnight, suffering a fever, cough and losing their sense of smell or taste for several days.
However, evidence is beginning to show that the tell-tale symptoms of the virus can persist for weeks on end in ‘long haulers’ — the term for patients plagued by lasting complications.
Data from the COVID Symptom Study app, by King’s College London and health company Zoe, suggests one in ten people may still have symptoms after three weeks, and some may suffer for months.
Long term symptoms include:
- Chronic tiredness
- Raised heart rate
- Loss of taste/smell
- Kidney disease
- Mobility issues
- Muscle pains
For those with more severe disease, Italian researchers who tracked 143 people who had been hospitalised with the disease found almost 90 per cent still had symptoms including fatigue two months after first falling unwell.
The most common complaints were fatigue, a shortness of breath and joint pain – all of which were reported during their battle with the illness.
Another study in Italy showed one in ten people who lose their sense of taste and smell with the coronavirus – now recognised as a key sign of the infection – may not get it back within a month.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, involved 187 Italians who had the virus but who were not ill enough to be admitted to hospital.
The UK’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has said the longer term impacts of Covid-19 on health ‘may be significant’.
Support groups such as Long Covid have popped up online for those who ‘have suspected Covid-19 and your experience doesn’t follow the textbook symptoms or recovery time’.