The impact of Great Britain’s vaccination rollout shows. The latest wave has reported case numbers far lower than last year’s, and the gap between cases and deaths continues to widen as more jabs are administered. But it’s schoolchildren that are driving the still-formidable surge the country has seen over the past few weeks.
Cases have numbered in the tens of thousands since Britain’s ‘Freedom Day’ more than three months ago. On the 27th of October, the UK reported just under 42,000 cases, down from over 50,000 a week earlier. More than a third of these recent reported cases are under-15-year-olds.
This makes a school-aged British child fifteen times more likely to be infected with COVID than an 80-year-old, as of late October.
This high prevalence among schoolchildren makes it clear they are behind the recent wave, which has resulted in Britain’s highest level of hospitalisation since March. About 20% of ICU beds are filled with COVID patients, leading experts to predict the NHS could face serious pressure this winter.
A study by Airfinity shows that even if COVID hospitalisations remain stable throughout the coming winter, additional flu cases will put severe stress on the healthcare system. Lead Airfinity analyst Dr Linley says “the consensus is that this year’s flu resurgence is expected to be severe and we could see up to 6.1k hospitalisations a week for flu alone.”
Despite England being at the forefront of global vaccine rollout for adults, they were slow to approve vaccinations for children. Approval of Pfizer for 12-15-year-olds was only announced in mid-September, already weeks into the school year.
Vaccine uptake remains enduringly low in 12-15s, sitting at less than 20%. Despite having higher natural immunity to COVID, high infection rates in the age group still have severe consequences, like missed school or Long COVID.
Statistics reveal the disruption that COVID wreaks among children. The British Office for National Statistics shows that on October 29, 1 in 25 primary-age children and 1 in 11 secondary-age children were currently infected.
In the country of Hertfordshire, over 10,000 children have been infected since school returned. In a week at the end of October, schools reporting outbreaks numbered in the hundreds. Thirteen children have already died in the UK in the weeks since schools reopened.
It’s not all down to the children though. England’s eagerness to jab adults now threatens to further exacerbate oncoming surges further. Vaccine efficacy has been proven to wane significantly even five months after the second dose. And the UK’s current protection measures are some of the loosest in Europe, with no mask mandates or any other legal restrictions.
Although at the current state, Britain’s high case rates are an outlier in Western Europe, rising cases in Germany suggest this could become a trend across the whole continent. Experts like Tim Spector, a professor at King’s College, say government “complacency” in relying on vaccines spells danger for the future of all age groups.
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