'Best' study finds rate of 'long COVID' in kids extremely low

(Image by Marcos Cola from Pixabay)

One of the arguments for vaccinating children despite their nearly 100% survival rate from COVID-19 is the threat of what health officials have termed “long COVID,” the persistence of symptoms months after contracting the disease.

However, a study published Thursday by Britain’s Office of National Statistics found an extremely low rate in children.

The study concluded that the persistence of common symptoms after 12 weeks was as low as 0% to 1.7% for children, compared to the control group.

It’s the “best data by far” on “long COVID,” said Dr. Alasdair Munro, a clinical research fellow specializing in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Southhampton in England.

“For kids, the news is incredibly reassuring – parents minds should be put to rest,” he wrote Thursday on Twitter.

“Despite a huge amount of concern, these statistics back up what we are seeing in practice with kids,” said Munro, who also works as a clinician in pediatric emergency medicine.

“Whilst debilitating for those it does affect, #LongCovid is not a huge problem for the overwhelming majority of children who are infected with #SARSCoV2,” he said.

Munro, a member of the prestigious Lancet COVID-19 Commission, specializes in early and late phase clinical trials of vaccines and antibiotics. The commission is “an interdisciplinary initiative” addressing the pandemic that encompasses “the health sciences, business, finance, and public policy.

Meanwhile, a scientific review of global studies conducted by researchers in Australia reported Friday morning by the Sydney Morning Herald found lingering symptoms of COVID-19 rarely persist in children beyond 12 weeks.

The paper said it’s “a reassuring sign they are far less likely than adults to suffer the debilitating effects of what is referred to as long COVID.”

Significantly, the researchers concluded most global studies into long COVID in children had “significant limitations” and many overstated the risk.

The group was comprised of leading pediatric researchers at Melbourne’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Data ‘has been widely misused’
Since March 2020, Munro has been leading the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health review of published evidence regarding COVID-19 in children, according to the commission’s website. And he has been working as senior fellow on a number of COVID-19 vaccine candidate clinical trials, including the Oxford vaccine. Munro also is a member of a working group on the transmission of COVID-19 in schools.

Munro said Thursday on Twitter that previous Office of National Statistics data “have been widely misused, and difficult to interpret due to unavailable methods.”

“This is all put to bed now,” he said, with the new study providing “excellent, transparent comparisons with a suitable control group.”

“Importantly, it includes COVID cases which would be missed by [National Health Services] testing,” he said.

‘It’s better than people would’ve guessed’
A previous British study of children ages 11 to 17, published two weeks ago, found a higher rate of persistent symptoms in children. But the researchers at University College London and Public Health England said the prevalence of long COVID in the age group was lower than some had feared last year.

“Overall, it’s better than people would’ve guessed back in December,” Professor Terence Stephenson of the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, told reporters, Reuters reported.

The study, according to Reuters, concluded that 14% of children, or 1 in 7, may have three or more symptoms linked to the coronavirus 15 weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, such as unusual tiredness or headaches.

But Munro contests the 1-in-7 statistic, calling it a “zombie statistic going around.”

“This is nonsense. It it based on a complete misunderstanding” of the study he said.

‘Long-haul COVID’
In the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics says in its guidance for caring for children after COVID-19 infection that “a post-COVID-19 condition called ‘long-haul COVID’ is an umbrella term that encompasses physical and mental health consequences four or more weeks after a COVID-19 illness.”

“Although the reported frequency of post-COVID-19 conditions varies widely, several studies show that long-term symptoms can occur in children and adolescents,” the AAP says.

“If concerns persist past 12 weeks, then additional diagnostic testing and/or referral to a multidisciplinary post-COVID-19 clinic may be appropriate.”

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