One in 14 children of high school age had Covid last week, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics.
The substantial increase – up from around one in 20 students the previous week – suggests that the spread of Covid in high schools far exceeds the government’s vaccination schedule. It follows criticism this week from school leaders and parents about a “random” vaccine rollout that continues to disrupt education.
The ONS survey, based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, showed an overall increase in Covid infections in England from one in 85 to one in 70 over the week ending October 2. The trend was due to a seemingly huge increase in infections among high school children, with most age groups showing stable or declining positive test rates.
Covid cases have fallen in recent weeks in Scotland and Northern Ireland with an “uncertain” trend in Wales, according to the ONS survey.
Professor Kevin McConway, professor emeritus of applied statistics at the Open University, said the latest results in school-aged children were “concerning.” “Whichever way you look at it, this is a huge increase, and it clearly stems from the reopening of schools and, most importantly, the low immunization rates of children in this age group,” said he declared.
The latest data imply that the natural infection is spreading in high schools faster than students are vaccinated. According to data released Thursday by the UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA), less than one in 10 (9%) in the age group had been vaccinated last Sunday within weeks of the mid-term target set by the government. . More than a third of those vaccinated to date are children who are clinically vulnerable or living with vulnerable people who were prioritized earlier in the summer.
Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said: “It’s pretty clear that natural infection is way ahead of vaccination in this age group at the moment. It would take a really concerted effort to catch up. The implication is that herd immunity begins to play a role in this age group through natural infection. “
“I don’t think that’s a reason to cancel the vaccination,” Woolhouse added. “There is a long term strategy here as well as a short term strategy.
Woolhouse said the latest UKHSA data suggests infections in this age group may have peaked, or will peak soon. ONS data trends tend to lag behind new case numbers as it captures persistent infections as well as new ones.
It also appears that infections in the high school age group did not spread significantly to older age groups.
Sarah Crofts, Head of Analytical Results of the ONS Covid-19 Infections Investigation, said: ‘There is again a mixed picture of infection trends across the UK, with the largest increase seen in England. Much of this is due to a noticeable increase in the number of high school students, likely reflecting their return to school in September. “
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the scale of the increase in the number of high school children was “quite surprising” and it was not clear why the infections seemed to be spreading in high schools but not among younger people. According to the ONS, one in 36 elementary school students has been infected, and the trend has been fairly stable since September.