• There were more than 800 COVID-19 deaths among individuals aged 0 to 19 during the study period
  • COVID-19 ranked first in deaths from infectious or respiratory diseases
  • The study's results reportedly show that "COVID-19 is far from a harmless infection in children"

COVID-19 is known to have been greatly affecting vulnerable populations such as the elderly, but how has it been affecting members of the younger population? The disease is among the top causes of death for children aged 0 to 19, researchers have found.

For their study, published Monday in JAMA Network Open, researchers looked at data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to see where COVID-19 lies as an underlying cause of death for children and young people (CYP) aged 0 to 19 in the U.S. They compared the COVID-19 deaths with the leading non-COVID-19-related causes of death.

"The overall risk of death from COVID-19 in CYP is thus substantially less than in other age groups in the US," they wrote. "However, deaths in US CYP from all causes are rare, and so the mortality burden of COVID-19 is best understood by comparing it with other significant causes of CYP mortality from a recent pre–COVID-19 period."

They logged 821 COVID-19 deaths in the age group during the period spanning from Aug. 1, 2021, to July 31, 2022, and found that it was actually among the top causes of death in the group. More specifically, it ranked eighth among all causes of death, fifth in disease-related causes of death and first in deaths from infectious or respiratory diseases.

It accounted for 2% of all the deaths in the age group, the researchers found. It also caused "substantially more deaths" when compared to other "major vaccine-preventable diseases did before vaccines became available." These include other infectious diseases that were major causes of death such as measles and hepatitis A.

"(W)hen we compared those diseases to COVID-19, we found that COVID-19 caused substantially more deaths in children and young people than those other diseases did before vaccines became available; this demonstrates how seriously we need to take COVID-19 prevention and mitigation measures for the youngest age groups in the U.S. and worldwide," one of the study's co-authors, Professor Robbie M. Parks of Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, said in the University of Oxford release.

There were also more deaths in the age group during the Delta and Omicron waves than the previous ones, likely reflecting, they said, the sheer number of people that got infected during these waves.

It's worth noting that the study looked at the deaths directly from COVID-19 and not the ones wherein it was a contributing cause, the University of Oxford noted. It's possible, then, that the results still "understate" the actual mortality burden in the CYP age group.

"These results demonstrate that while it's rare for kids and teens to die in the U.S., COVID-19 is now the leading underlying cause of death from infectious disease for this age group," the study's lead author, Seth Flaxman of the University of Oxford's Department of Computer Science, said in the release.

"We show that COVID-19 was a top-ten leading cause of death in children in 2021-22 and the leading cause of death in children from any infectious disease. So, COVID-19 is far from a harmless infection in children," one of the study's co-authors, Dr. Oliver Ratmann of Imperial College London, added.

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Representation. Myléne/Pixabay