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Only 0.005% of COVID deaths have been children – so vaccine would have to be ‘very low risk’

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The chances of children dying from coronavirus are so low that the vaccine would need to be proven to be “very low risk” before they were given the jab, according to child health experts.

Their warning follows research that shows only 25 children and young people in England died from COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic – just 0.005% of those who were infected with the virus.

Nineteen of the deaths were in children with an underlying health condition, with complex neurodisability accounting for 13 of them, according to results from three studies conducted by academics from universities around the country.

Dr Elizabeth Whittaker, one of the researchers and a consultant in paediatric infectious diseases at Imperial College London, said: “This data would suggest you have to have a very low risk of the vaccine to justify giving it to all healthy children.”

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is currently considering whether the coronavirus vaccine rollout should be extended to include children as young as 12.

Those in favour argue that it would reduce the number of children being forced to miss school because of the virus. It would also reduce transmission to older, more vulnerable people.

But there have been 572 reports of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, following three million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the US.

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Young men seem to be at slightly higher risk, but the effects have largely been temporary.

“You can do the maths,” said Dr Whittaker. “It’s a very low risk and it’s self-limiting.”

“The CDC (US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are doing an investigation to explore how many of those young people needed critical care or immune-modulating therapy.

“That information is still pending and I suspect the JCVI are waiting for that data to come through.”

The new research, the most comprehensive of its kind, looked in-depth at children and young people in England who were admitted to hospital or died following a positive COVID test in the year to February 2021.

Over that period 5,830 of around 3.6 million under-18s who tested positive were admitted to hospital, with 61 of them dying.

Only 25 of them died as a direct result of the virus.

The rest died from other conditions unrelated to the infection.

The research has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, but it is available as a pre-print on the ResearchSquare server.

Dr Whittaker said: “It is reassuring that these findings reflect our clinical experience in hospital – we see very few seriously unwell children.

“Although this data covers up to February 2021, this hasn’t changed recently with the Delta variant.

“We hope this data will be reassuring for children and young people and their families.”

The researchers were able to use the data to calculate the risk of dying.

For healthy children and young people it was one in 1.6 million.

But for those with an underlying health condition it was between one in 100,000 and one in 158,000.

Children with a neurodisability were at highest risk of dying – one in 1,125.

The researchers have given their data to the vaccination experts at the JCVI, as well as the Department of Health and the WHO.

Russell Viner, professor of child and adolescent health at University College London, said the vaccine can already be given to children with a neurodisability, but the JCVI could choose to roll it out to those with other underlying health conditions.

“They have a slightly elevated risk so that is one option for the JCVI. They could pick and choose particular groups.

“It’s about having enough vaccinations and waiting for the safety data.”