PEOPLE under the age of 21 may be more vulnerable to the Indian coronavirus variant, a leading expert warned.
Prof Neil Ferguson, Imperial College London, revealed there is a “signal” in the data that it’s spreading quicker among younger age groups.
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Speaking at a German press briefing, he said it is not clear if this is because the variant has a biological advantage.
Instead it may be a result of the environment – for example, younger people are not vaccinated.
“There’s a hint in the data that under-21s are slightly more likely to be infected with this variant compared with other variants in recent weeks in the UK”, Prof Ferguson said, according to the Mirror.
“Whether that reflects a change in the biology or reflects what’s called founder effects and the context – the people who came into the country with the virus and then seeding of infection in certain schools and colleges – that’s impossible to resolve at the moment.”
Prof Ravi Gupta, a microbiologist at Cambridge University who was also present at the virtual briefing, said: “I do think we should take these reports [of it spreading more quickly in the young] seriously because that’s the first sign that you have a problem.
“Often if you wait too long for the right data it’s too late.
“Hopefully the countries where they’re seeing this will be studying it in a kind of rigorous way so that we can get that information.”
People under the age of 21 will be the last to receive their first vaccine dose, likely some time towards the end of July.
As for those under the age of 18, there are no plans to jab children.
The Indian variant is of a major concern because it’s already been proven to slightly reduce vaccine efficacy, as well as spread faster.
It is feared to be up to 50 per cent transmissible than the Kent strain, however may only be a few per cent faster.
As scientists are racing to gather more information, the NHS is also ramping up vaccinations to people living in hotspots, and through the age bands.
Meanwhile cases are growing, with almost 3,500 confirmed by Public Health England.
Several thousand more have been detected by genomic sequencing but not been fed through to public health officials.
No variant has yet been shown to be more easily spread among one age group compared to another, and working this out would be difficult.
The Office for National Statistics said in the week to May 15, there were early signs of increasing cases in children aged two years old to Year 6.
They’ve also gone up in those aged 35 to 49 years old.
But the pattern was uncertain in those aged from Year 7 to 24 years of age.
Data on the spread of the Indian variant in schools had been due to be published last week, according to The Observer.
But the PHE data is yet to come to light, with Downing Street defending the delay by saying: “We are looking at ways to publish cases transmitted in different settings in a robust and clear way.”
Experts have previously warned cases of the Indian variant in the North West – where it is rampant – are concentrated in school age kids and young adults.
Professor Christina Pagel, Clinical Operational Research Unit (CORU) at University College London (UCL), said this was because youngsters had no vaccine protection.
If children catch the bug, there is no evidence it will cause more severe disease than other variants of coronavirus.
But they could take the virus home and pass it onto older relatives who haven’t received a coronavirus vaccine, including those middle-aged, local health leaders fear.
Vicky Head, Bedford’s director of public health, said last week: “That’s one of the really striking things about the variant, is just how transmissible it is.
“If someone goes to school and tests positive, we are then seeing their whole family test positive.”