More children contract COVID; experts say too soon for panic button

While the share of COVID positive children below 10 years rose from 2.80 per cent in March to 7.04 in August, experts have attributed it to a rise in testing and decreased vulnerability in adults

Experts say India is yet to reach a situation where the disease is overwhelming for children. Representative photo: iStock

The percentage of children below 10 years contracting COVID-19 has seen a steady rise – from 2.80 per cent in March this year to 7.04 per cent in August – even as the country prepares for the onset of an inevitable third wave of the pandemic, data provided by the Empowered Group-1 (EG-1) has said.

Children in the 1-10 age group were 17 per cent of the total population of the country by March 2021, a report by the Technical Group on Population Projections said.

Commenting on the data that was recently presented at a meeting headed by NITI Ayog member VK Paul, experts have said the rise in number of infection in the said age group is not “dramatic” and could be due to the reduced vulnerability of adults to the virus as well as due to increased testing.

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According to the data, children aged 1-10 years constituted 2.72 per cent to 3.59 per cent of the country’s total active cases between June 2020 and February 2021. However, the share saw a sharp rise in August with around eight states logging higher numbers than the national average of 7.04 per cent.

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Of the 18 states and Union territories that were surveyed, Mizoram at 16.48 per cent (of total active cases) had the highest number of children having COVID in August. Delhi had the lowest at 2.25 per cent. Apart from Mizoram, seven other states – Meghalaya (9.35 per cent), Manipur (8.74 per cent), Kerala (8.62 per cent), Andaman and Nicobar Islands (8.2 per cent), Sikkim (8.02 per cent), Dadra and Nagar Haveli (7.69 per cent) and Arunachal Pradesh (7.38 per cent) had more children with COVID-19 than the national average.

Commenting on the trend, a source told Indian Express that the rise in cases in children could be a result of “more exposure” to the virus and “more testing”.

“The proportion of children getting admitted is higher than before. It is mainly because of two reasons. First, there is more awareness and alertness; second, vulnerability might have also increased proportionately,” another source told IE.

“If we look at sero surveys, the positivity rate among children is 57-58 per cent. This shows that largely, children are part of the pandemic and have always been part of the pandemic,” the source said.

A reduced vulnerability of adults to COVID also could be a reason why more children are testing positive, say other experts.

“Overall, the proportion of COVID cases among children shows an increase because the vulnerability of adults has reduced…So, there is a marginal shift, but if we see the larger picture, we cannot call it dramatic. We need to keep a watch on it,” the source told IE.

Hinting that the claim that children will be highly affected by the third wave of the pandemic may not be necessarily true, the source says that we are yet to reach a situation where children have been overwhelmed by the disease and such a situation is highly unlikely in the future.

The source says that despite the rise in share of COVID-19 cases and number of hospitalisations, mortality in children continues to be low, which is a positive sign.

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“The proportion of children being admitted to hospitals has increased marginally. But the mortality, because of the preparedness and lessons learnt from Kerala, is stable or lower than before,” the source told IE.

While the country’s healthcare fraternity is on its toes to meet the Centre’s target of inoculating the entire adult population by the end of this year, vaccines like Biological E for children below 10 are in the trial phase to add to the government’s strategy to avert a deadly third wave of the pandemic.

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