LONDON – Coronavirus infections among schoolchildren in the UK have pushed the number of daily cases to stubbornly high levels, a setback that underscores how Britain now lags many of its European neighbors in vaccination issues after taking a rapid advance.
The UK started vaccinating adolescents in August, much later than in the US and Europe, and decided to drop almost all public health restrictions over the summer, mid-summer. optimism that the vaccines had verified the fast-spreading Delta variant.
As winter approaches, the government is working to extend vaccination to school-aged children and to give boosters to vulnerable adults to reduce the risk of the virus spreading in older groups and causes a new wave of illness and death. Vaccine protection and the young age of many of those recently infected has meant that hospitalizations and deaths, although higher than elsewhere in Europe, have so far remained at a fraction of the levels seen earlier in the pandemic.
Some scientists say the unusually persistent infection pattern in the UK right now could offer a taste of a future in which Covid-19 is still present in the background, causing mild infections in most people and serious illnesses in the unlucky few, much like the flu.
“It may be normal now,” said Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The seven-day average of daily new cases in the UK was around 34,500 mid-week. Cases peaked at around 48,000 in late July, fell to 26,000 in August and have hovered around 30,000 a day since.
The number of cases, hospital admissions and deaths are much lower elsewhere in Europe and are generally declining. Many European countries have overtaken the UK in immunization coverage, and most continue to adhere to public health measures such as social distancing that Britain has largely abandoned, while adopting vaccination mandates that she did not apply.
After adjusting for the difference in population, the number of cases in the UK exceeds the cases in the US In the UK there are around 495 cases per million people per day, compared to around 304 cases per million people per day. day in the United States. In 27 states in the European Union, cases currently average around 173 per million people per day.
In the seven days to Wednesday, daily deaths from Covid-19 were on average 41 in France and 55 in Germany, compared to 112 in the UK.
Infections among school-aged children, who were the last to be vaccinated, are behind the current phase of the outbreak in Britain. Data shows that 38% of recent infections in England are among people aged 10-19. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 8% of all high school students in England had the virus in early October, the highest of any age group.
In France, on the other hand, where more children are vaccinated and where some control measures are still in place in schools, infection rates among children are falling. In the seven days that ended Oct. 4, about 46 children under 10 per 100,000 tested positive for the coronavirus, down 63% from the incidence on the first day of school starting September. In children aged 10 to 19, the incidence rate fell from 71% during this period, to 57 per 100,000.
In much of the UK, control measures in schools such as wearing a mask and isolating close contacts of an infected person have been relaxed. Immunizations for 16 and 17 year olds started in August, much later than in the United States and most of Europe, and 12 to 15 year olds started getting vaccinated last month.
Scientists advising the government on vaccine deployment were against vaccinating adolescents because of their low risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19. They were included in the vaccination program after the country’s chief medical officers concluded they faced additional health risks due to lack of education.
Most school-aged children in Britain receive a single dose of the vaccine, reflecting concerns about rare side effects. Less than 15% of those 17 and under are fully immunized.
In France, 67% of children aged 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated. In Portugal, the figure is 82%. Spain has fully vaccinated more than three quarters of young people aged 12 to 19. Italy vaccinated 62% of the same age group.
“The problem is, there are a very large number of school-aged students,” said Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh.
The UK’s reluctance to vaccinate schoolchildren has meant that several European neighbors have surpassed it in the share of their populations fully vaccinated, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control and the Our World in Data project from the University of Oxford.
About 66% of the UK’s total population is fully vaccinated. This is slightly ahead of Germany, where 65% of the population is fully vaccinated, and behind France at 73% and Italy at 69%. Several European countries, including Denmark, Spain and Ireland, have fully immunized more than 75% of their population. Portugal has fully vaccinated 86% of its citizens.
In the United States, 56% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although the UK experiences high and persistent workloads, the trend for hospitalizations and deaths is more positive, highlighting the effect of vaccines on limiting serious illness and the young age of most infected people.
Admissions have been dropping since early September and deaths since mid-month. Daily admissions peaked at around 1,000, lower than the 4,200 per day seen during the deadliest wave of Covid-19 in January, and are currently around 700 per day. Daily deaths reached over 1,200 in January. The latest seven-day average of new deaths in the UK is 110.
This is above the level of daily deaths from Covid-19 recorded in most countries in Europe. Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the decline in immunity after vaccination could help explain the number of severe cases since the UK started vaccinating its elderly populations and vulnerable before their neighbors. The UK and other European countries have started giving booster shots before winter, to fight the risk that waning immunity could lead to an upsurge in serious illness.
Professor Hunter said the weakening of immunity means it’s reasonable to expect the coronavirus to continue causing infections as the pandemic recedes. But over time, and in the absence of the emergence of a more virulent variant of the virus that may elude immunity, the proportion of severe cases is expected to decline as more people face repeated exposure. over time. Coronaviruses that cause colds infect thousands of people a day, but rarely seriously.
“Once you have some immunity, when you get it another time, you’re less likely to get seriously ill,” he said.
—Giovanni Legorano, Bojan Pancevski, Nick Kostov and Sam Schechner contributed to this article.
Write to Jason Douglas at [email protected]
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