UK’s New COVID-19 Variant Could Easily Infect Children, Scientists Say
New variant of the coronavirus spreading rapidly in Britain carries mutations that could mean children are as susceptible to becoming infected with it as adults – unlike previous strains, scientists said on Monday.
This is according members of UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats advisory group (NervTag).
The coronavirus variant – named VUI-202012/01– was revealed to be in circulation last week by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and is said to be behind the recent surge in infections, including in London and much of southeast England.
Its emergence led to Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelling Christmas for millions of people, who are now living under the toughest Tier 4 restrictions, and has prompted dozens of countries to suspend flights from the UK amid fears about the high rate of infection of the new strain.
Briefing reporters on the latest findings, scientists from NervTag, who are tracking the variant, said it had swiftly become the dominant strain in the south of Britain, and could soon do the same across the country.
Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford University and chair of NERVTAG, expressed;
We now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the U.K.
Neil Ferguson, another professor and infectious disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London and also a member of NERVTAG stressed;
There is a hint that it has a higher propensity to infect children. We haven’t established any sort of causality on that, but we can see it in the data. We will need to gather more data to see how it behaves going forward.
What we’ve seen over the course of a five or six-week period is consistently the proportion of pillar two cases for the variant in under-15s was statistically significantly higher than the non-variant virus.
The emergence of mutated SARS-CoV-2 variant, which scientists say is up to 70% more transmissible than previous strains in UK, has prompted some countries to close their borders with Britain and pushed large areas of the country into severe restrictions over the Christmas period.
Wendy Barclay, another NERVTAG professor and a specialist in virology at Imperial, said that among the mutations in the new variant are changes to the way it enters human cells, which may mean “that children are, perhaps, equally susceptible to this virus as adults”.
We are not saying that this is a virus which specifically attacks children. We know that SARS-CoV-2, as it emerged as a virus, was not as efficient in infecting children as it was adults, and there are many hypotheses about that. And again, if the (new) virus is having an easier time of finding an entrance cell then that would put children on a more level playing field.
Therefore, given their mixing patterns, you would expect to see more children being infected.
Prof Ferguson went on to say that;
There was strong evidence the new mutant strain is 50% more transmissible than the previous virus.