Kids are contracting the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant at high rates, but studies say they aren’t getting sicker
Recent headlines that the B.1.1.7 COVID variant is more contagious and seems to spread more easily between children than previous strains caused alarm among parents, but the slightly better news is that yes, the COVID-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom is causing more infections in children, but the variant doesn’t appear to cause more severe illness in kids than previous strains.
Boston Children’s Hospital reports that in the United Kingdom where the variant originated, studies show that the vast majority of young people who contract the variant experienced mild or no symptoms at all.
There also does not seem to be any difference in severity of disease as compared to previous COVID-19 variants. Plus, B.1.1.7 does not appear more likely to trigger multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), or other serious illness in children, compared to the older variants of the virus.
“There is no evidence in those under 18 that you’re seeing increased severity of disease,” Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases specialist and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told Healthline. Additionally, the pediatric hospitalizations rate from January 1, 2021 to April 1, 2021 has actually decreased, per Health and Human Services.
Healthline reports that studies suggest that the B.1.1.7 variant has a mutation that makes it easier for the virus to latch onto our cells and cause an infection, though they still don’t know with absolutely certainty why kids seem to be getting the disease, though there are theories. For one, doctors suggest that it’s because kids have fewer ACE-2 receptors (the site where the coronavirus binds to our cells) than adults and since the new virus strains “attaches with much more robust nature” meaning that “it can have less attachment sites and still infect.”
It’s great news that kids aren’t getting sicker from this new variant, however they are getting infected, which was something children largely avoided during the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The news about the B.1.1.7 variant first made waves earlier this month when CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that “across the country, we are hearing reports of clusters of cases associated with daycare centers and youth sports.”
Not surprisingly, this news did cause fear among parents especially as their kids remain (or return) to in-person schooling. However, the bottom line is that these kids can bring the virus home to their parents or grandparents who might exhibit worse symptoms than their kids.
“This would mean that, without proper precautions, [kids] may bring the variant strain home or spread it to others in other venues,” Dr. Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and chief of service in the emergency department at University Hospital, told Yahoo. “This is a particular concern to many given the return to the classroom along with the reduction in social distancing under the right circumstances recommended by the CDC.
It’s more important than ever that all adults, and especially parents who live with their kids, get vaccinated to protect themselves and the rest of the family to curb the spread of this contagious virus.