LONDON–Coronavirus infections among schoolchildren in the U.K. have pushed daily caseloads to stubbornly high levels, a setback that underscores how Britain now trails many of its European neighbors on vaccination after staking out an early lead.
In August 2008, the U.K. started vaccinating teens , a long time later than the U.S. or Europe. This was in spite of optimism that the vaccines would stop the rapidly-emerging Delta variant.
But now the country is in the midst of a swell in Covid-19, driven by school-age cases, that is showing few signs of abating, defying the familiar pattern of peaks and troughs that has marked previous phases of the pandemic.
With winter fast approaching, the government has been racing to get vaccines to all school-age kids and booster shots for those who are at high risk to prevent the spread of the virus to older people. This will reduce the chance that the virus could cause more sickness and death. Despite being protected by vaccines , hospitalizations have remained at fractions of what they were during the earlier pandemic.
Some scientists say the unusually persistent pattern of infection in the U.K. right now might offer a foretaste of a future in which Covid-19 is ever-present in the background, causing mild infections in most people and severe illness in an unlucky few, much like influenza.
“Maybe that is the new normal.”
Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The seven-day average of new daily cases in the U.K. was around 34,500 midweek. Cases peaked in late July at around 48,000, dipped in August to 26,000, and have hovered around 30,000 a day ever since.
*) Hospital admissions, deaths, and caseloads are all much lower in Europe than elsewhere. They are also in decline. Many European countries have overtaken the U.K. in vaccination coverage, and most continue to adhere to public-health measures such as social distancing that Britain has largely abandoned, while adopting vaccine mandates that it hasn’t applied.
After adjusting for differences in population, the U.K. has a higher caseload than the U.S.
. In the U.K., there are around 495 cases per million people a day, compared with around 304 cases per million people a day in the U.S. In the 27 states of the European Union, cases currently average around 173 per million people a day.
Over the seven days through Wednesday, daily Covid-19 deaths averaged 41 in France and 55 in Germany, compared with 112 in the U.K. Daily deaths in the U.S. averaged 1,700, more than three times the rate in the U.K. after adjusting for population.
*) The current epidemic in Britain is being driven by infections in school-aged children who are the last to be vaccinated. Data shows 38% of recent infections in England are among those ages 10 to 19. According to the Office for National Statistics, 8% of high school students in England were infected with the virus by October 1. This is the highest number of cases of any age.
*) In France, however, the incidence of coronavirus has been decreasing. There are more children vaccinated, and there are some school control measures. In the seven days that ended Oct. 4, about 46 children under the age of 10 per 100,000 tested positive for the coronavirus, down 63% from the incidence on the first day of school in early September. Among children ages 10 to 19, the incidence rate fell 71% in that period, to 57 per 100,000.
*) In many parts of the U.K. control measures such as isolation of close relatives and mask-wearing have been relaxed. Vaccinating 16- and 17-year-olds began in August, far later than in the U.S. and most countries in Europe, and 12- to 15-year-olds started receiving shots last month.
Scientists advising the government on the vaccine rollout were against vaccinating teenagers because of their low risk of getting seriously ill with Covid-19. After country’s top medical officials concluded that they were at greater risk from the loss of schooling, the government included them in its vaccine program.
*) Most school-age children are receiving a single vaccine dose in Britain. This is due to concerns about rare side effects. Fewer than 15% of those 17 and younger are fully vaccinated.
In France, 67% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated. In Portugal, the figure is 82%. Spain has fully vaccinated more than three-quarters of 12- to 19-year-olds. Italy has vaccinated 62% of the same age group.
” The problem is that school-age students are in large numbers,” said
Professor of Public Health at University of Edinburgh.
The U.K.’s inflexibility in vaccinating its schoolchildren has led to several European countries surpassing it in terms of the proportion of fully vaccinated citizens, according data from the European Center for Disease Prevention Control and the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data.
Around 66% of the U.K.’s total population is fully vaccinated. That 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 vaccinated more than 75% of their populations. Portugal has fully vaccinated 86% of its citizens.
In the U.S., 56% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although the U.K. has a high number of cases and continues to have them, there is a positive trend in the hospital admissions/deaths. This is a sign of the effectiveness of vaccinations in limiting serious illness and the youthful age of many of the infected.
Admissions and deaths have fallen since September, with a peak at around 1. Daily admissions peaked at around 1,000, lower than the 4,200 a day experienced in the deadlier Covid-19 wave in January, and are currently around 700 a day. Daily deaths reached more than 1,200 in January. The latest seven-day average of new deaths in the U.K. is 110.
That is above the level of daily deaths from Covid-19 recorded in most countries in Europe.
Professor of Medicine at the University of East Anglia said that waning immunity may explain why severe cases have increased since vaccinations were started in the United Kingdom. To combat severe illnesses, the U.K. has begun to give booster shots before winter. This is in response to diminishing immunity.
*Professor Hunter stated that weakening immunity is a reason to believe the coronavirus can continue to infect people as the pandemic subsides. However, because the virus is not able to evade immunity it will continue to cause severe infections over time. Common colds are caused by Coronaviruses. They infect thousands, but only rarely.
“Once your immunity is established, you will be less likely to become seriously ill if you have it again,” he stated.
–Giovanni Legorano and Bojan Paancevski contributed to this article.
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