Although children and young people have not been hit as hard by he virus, disparities seen in older adults are even more exaggerated in the fatality risks of younger victims, the new report suggests.
Few under 21s killed by the virus were in perfect health, however. The CDC report found that 75 percent of the young people who died of the infection had at least one underlying health condition.
As children and young adults head back to K-12 schools and colleges, the findings, published Tuesday are reassuring for those in pristine health – but underscore just how serious coronavirus risks for those with any health issues as well as people of color.
Older children were more likely to die of COVID-19, likely because they were exposed to the virus more frequently, the CDC found
The CDC collected data on 120 people under the age of 21 who died of COVID-19 across the US.
Among those, 12 of those who died were infants who died of coronavirus before their first birthdays, representing 10 percent of all the under-21 fatalities.
Children between ages one and nine accounted for about 20 percent of the overall deaths and 70 percent were between 10 and 20.
Coronavirus infections have been thought to be predominantly mild in children, with the exception of those who develop MIS-C – multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children – a rare and dangerous complication of infections that has struck hundreds of children who caught coronavirus and even proven fatal for a handful of them.
In the CDC study, just 15 of the children who died had bee diagnosed with the rare condition.
Boys were slightly more likely than girls to die of coronavirus, accounting for 63 percent of the fatalities investigated by the CDC.
Nearly half (45 percent) of the under-21s were Hispanic, nearly a third (29 percent) were black and four percent were American Indian/Alaska Natives.
Only 25 percent of the children had no prior health conditions, and 45 percent had two or More chronic health conditions, the CDC found.
Common underlying health conditions included asthma and other lung diseases, obesity, neurological or developmental conditions or heart conditions.
What is unclear is what the overlapping demographics of underlying health conditions and race were.
Black and Hispanic people in the US, especially, suffer higher rates of chronic health conditions, compared to their white counterparts. High blood pressure, for example, is about twice as common among black people as it is among white people.
Poorer immune systems and higher baseline inflammation levels make people with underlying health conditions more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Higher rates of chronic conditions are, in turn, driven partly by higher rates of poverty and lower rates of insurance coverage among black and Latinx Americans.
Relatedly, minority Americans are more likely to work ‘essential’ jobs in health care or service, that require them to go into their place of work and interact with more people.
They are then more likely to bring home coronavirus, often to multi-generational families, including both elderly people and children, like those included in the study.
Not only are their working parents more likely to be exposed to coronavirus, they’re likely to get exposed over and over again. Previous research has found that the more inundated a person – young or old – is with coronavirus and its infectious particles, the more likely they are to get dangerously ill.
‘Among infants, children, and adolescents hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and cases of MIS-C, persons from racial and ethnic minority groups are overrepresented,’ the CDC report authors wrote.
‘These racial/ethnic groups are also disproportionately represented among essential workers unable to work from their homes, resulting in higher risk for exposure to SARS-CoV-2 with potential secondary transmission among household members, including infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.
‘In addition, disparities in social determinants of health, such as crowded living conditions, food and housing insecurity, wealth and educational gaps, and racial discrimination, likely contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 and MIS-C.’
The report authors added that all of these only compounded by the difficulties in getting health care faced disproportionately by minorities, including: ‘difficulty and delays in accessing health care services because of lack of insurance, child care, transportation, or paid sick leave, and social determinants of health that contribute to higher prevalence of medical conditions.’