Study: Effect of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 on children and young people

By: Sarah Brookman, James Cook,
Mark Zucherman, Simon Broughton,
Katharine Harman, Atul Gupta

February 10, 2021

The Lancet, Vol 5. 2021

The clinical impact of the new
SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1·1.7 on children
and young people (aged 18 years or
younger) regarding acute respiratory
COVID-19 is yet to be fully defined.
Media reports of increases in admissions
to hospital and more serious illness in
children and young people have resulted
in public confusion and implicated the
B.1.1.7 variant as a more pathogenic
infection within this group. This
uncertainty has necessitated a public
statement from the Royal College of
Paediatrics and Child Health.

It is important to rapidly clarify the true impact of the second wave on children and young people within the context of a high prevalence of the B.1.1.7 variant, estimated to account for 70% of infections in the London region in January, 2021. Located in south London, King’s College Hospital lies within an area of high disease prevalence, admitting large numbers of patients in both COVID-19 waves. We have previously published data pertaining to children
and young people admitted during the first wave and here, we compare those data with the characteristics of children and young people admitted with acute respiratory COVID-19 thus
far during wave 2.

Between March 1, and May 31, 2020, 20 children and young people (aged 18 years or younger and positive for SARS-CoV-2) were admitted to King’s College Hospital. Between Nov 1, 2020, and Jan 19, 2021, 60 children and young people positive for SARS-CoV-2 were admitted. No significant differences were found in age, proportion of patients with comorbidities, proportion of patients from Black, Asian and minority ethnicity background, or deprivation score between groups. Disease severity necessitating oxygen therapy or ventilatory support was infrequent in both waves and was lower as a proportion of total admission in the second wave than in the first.

These early second wave data show that many children and young people have been admitted to hospital. This might be due to the higher prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 within our local community. Indeed, the number of adult patients admitted to King’s College Hospital in the second wave has also increased by about a third.
Importantly, we have found no evidence of more severe disease having occurred in children and young people during the second wave, suggesting that infection with the B.1.1.7 variant
does not result in an appreciably different clinical course to the original strain. These findings are in keeping with early national data. Severe acute respiratory COVID-19 remains an uncommon occurrence in children and young people.