AIIMS study says ‘it’s unlikely another Covid wave will disproportionately affect children’

Monika Yadav New Delhi | Updated on June 18, 2021

However, we need to be geared to boost health infra for children, says VK Paul

Allaying fears that the third wave of Covid 19 pandemic will affect children between 2-18, an ongoing study by researchers from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and others suggested that the SARS-CoV-2 sero-positivity rate was high among children and was comparable to their adult counterparts.

Hence, it is unlikely that another wave will disproportionately affect them. These were the interim findings of the study, supported by the World Health Organisation, and were based on a sero-surveilllance survey carried out on over 4,500 volunteers, of which, 700 were aged between 2 and 17 years.

The final study, expected to be completed in two to three months, will cover a total of 10,000 participants, mainly from Delhi, Gorakhpur, Bhubaneswar and Agartala. According to the study, for which the data was collected during March and June this year, sero-positivity rate was higher in Delhi Urban at 74.7 per cent. This was much higher than 56.1 per cent reported during the fifth sero survey in January this year.

Talking about the study at a press conference here, VK Paul said: “There has only been mild infection among children till now and only isolated cases of infection may occur in children, but going forward, we have to be fully prepared in terms of improving health infrastructure, particularly for the pediatric population. Both the public and private sector will have to work in tandem to deal with the situation if it arises,” said Paul.

Opening of schools

While responding to a media query on opening of schools, Paul said “a lot of issues need to be considered as we go ahead and the population gets vaccinated. However, taking lessons from other countries, which opened schools and then suffered sudden outbreak, we need to be patient”.

Among all the four cities selected for the study, the Gorakhpur site has the highest sero positivity rate of 87.9 per cent, while Faridabad had least sero positivity rate of 58.8 per cent. “The data collection of all the sites was done just before the second wave hit the country, except the site of Gorakhpur. This may be the reason for the highest prevalence at the Gorakhpur site among all the sites,” the study said, while adding that overall more than half of the participants (62.3 per cent) showed evidence of past infection.

Agartala site

Meanwhile, Agartala site included some tribal population as well. As per the study, in general the tribal population had lower mobility, resulting in lower vulnerability to Covid-19 infection. This might explain the comparatively low prevalence in children at this site.

“In a rapidly evolving pandemic, individuals who have been recently infected (< 14 days) may not have developed antibodies. They would have been reported negatively in sero-survey. Hence, our findings are likely to be an underestimate,” the report said.

The report further said that children had a slightly lower sero-positivity rate compared to adults – 55.7 per cent versus 63.5 per cent. These findings are similar to the previously reported evidence, which found that children are less affected than the adult age group.

“During the pandemic schools were closed and children were more likely to have remained indoors compared to adults. For children, the source of infections is likely to be the household adults who brought the infection from outside during livelihood activities,” the report stated while further adding, “hence, we can expect some lag in sero-positivity among children. We are not sure if children produce the same level of antibodies as adults when infected.”

In addition, Lav Kumar, Joint Secretary on the report, said: “This may not be true that the Covid infections will spread among children in the third wave, the study shows sero positivity was nearly same in all age groups. But the government is fully geared up to deal with the challenge in terms of preparations,"

If children produce a lower level of antibodies that might not be detectable by the existing laboratory tests, then the observed sero-positivity rate would be a reflection of the laboratory tests proficiency rather than any true difference between children and adult infection rates. Overall, the results suggest that children and adults are equally susceptible to Covid infection.

Published on June 18, 2021

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