The new mutation of COVID-19 found in the UK may be infecting more children than earlier strains, according to a government advisory group of scientists.
Until now, COVID-19 has mostly affected adults, but children appear just as susceptible to the new strain, which is also thought to be more contagious, members of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group told reporters.
“There is a hint that it is has a higher propensity to infect children,” NERVTAG member Neil Ferguson, a professor from Imperial College London, said Monday of the mutation that forced London into lockdown.
Studies from the last few weeks show that “cases for the variant in under-15s was statistically significantly higher than the non-variant virus,” he said, according to the Independent.
Wendy Barclay, another NERVTAG professor and a specialist in virology, said the mutations in the new variant include changes to the way it enters human cells, which may mean “that children are, perhaps, equally susceptible to this virus as adults” are.
“We’re not saying that this is a virus which specifically targets children,” she said, saying it instead puts them “on a more level playing field” with adults in terms of getting infected, The Independent said.
The mutation — VUI 202012/01 — is being blamed for a huge spike in cases in the wider London area, forcing the government to effectively “cancel Christmas” there and leading to a slew of nations slamming shut their borders with the UK.
NERVTAG’s chairman, Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford University, confirmed experts there “now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the UK.”
Barclay, meanwhile, said they were not yet “completely confident” that the vaccines that have just been rolled out would be effective against the new variant.
That work is “underway in several laboratories around the UK at the moment,” she said of urgent studies, with others being carried out in the US as well as by the vaccine makers themselves.