COVID-19 has surpassed pneumonia and the flu to become the leading respiratory cause of death among children and teenagers, a new study found.
A team of 11 public health researchers published the study Monday in JAMA Network. It found that 821 Americans up to age 19 died from COVID-19 between Aug. 1, 2022, and July 31 of last year — a rate of one death for every 100,000 people in the age range.
Another 472 children and teens died from influenza and pneumonia, at a rate of 0.6 of every 100,000 people — the second leading cause of death.
“Various factors, including underreporting and not accounting for COVID-19’s role as a contributing cause of death from other diseases, mean that these estimates may understate the true mortality burden of COVID-19,” the researchers concluded.
More than 1,300 children and young people have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic, most in the last two years, according to the researchers.
“If you look at infectious diseases in children in the U.S. historically, in the period before vaccines became available, hepatitis A, rotavirus, rubella and measles were all major causes of death,” said Columbia University public health professor Robbie M. Parks, a co-author of the study. “But when we compared those diseases to COVID-19, we found that COVID-19 caused substantially more deaths in children and young people than those other diseases did before vaccines became available.”
The findings are alarming since young people die at comparably lower rates from COVID-19 and all other causes than older Americans, according to infectious disease specialists.
“Even though COVID-19 tends to be a mild infection in those below the age of 19, it is not uniformly so, as some individuals in this age group will have risk factors for severe disease,” said Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It is discouraging to see COVID have this impact even after vaccines become available.”
Infectious disease deaths among children and teenagers are “relatively rare due to the use of vaccines” against many common diseases like measles, Dr. Adalja said in an email.
COVID-19 ranked eighth among all causes of death for young Americans, according to the study. It cited infant mortality conditions arising during the perinatal period between late-term pregnancy complications and the first month after childbirth as the top cause.
“These deaths are preventable by vaccination,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said in an email. “Questions and hesitancy are normal, so I urge all parents to speak with their pediatricians and family doctors whether their children should receive COVID vaccine.”
Excluding deaths caused by suicide, assault and accidents, COVID-19 also ranked as the fifth leading cause of death from all illnesses, the study found.
Other leading causes of death in young people, in descending order: problems emerging in the 20th week of pregnancy to the fourth week after birth, accidents, genetic maladies, cancer and heart disease.
After COVID-19 and influence/pneumonia, the 10th leading cause of death was brain-blood illnesses.
“Overall, all of our efforts against COVID have been aimed at survival among vulnerable populations such as children and youth,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a physician at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, commenting on the study.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.