THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Experts have dismissed the possibility that a third wave of Covid would be especially harmful for children.On the contrary, the below-18 age group, which saw fewer deaths in the first and second wave, has better chances of surviving another wave of Covid if it strikes, they said.The cross protection offered by a host of vaccines taken since birth and the natural immunity offered after infection are considered two major factors that gives an advantage to the age group, said experts.
“There are studies that say the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB), and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine provide wider protection to children than their intended use. Similar is the case with the influenza vaccine. Though the concepts are not proved beyond doubt, the data suggests children have better innate immunity. Concerns regarding the third wave have been blown out of proportion,” said Dr Purushothaman Kuzhikkathukandiyil, a former professor of paediatrics in the Thrissur and Kozhikode Medical College Hospitals.
Global instances of Covid infection among children was just 6-12 per cent and the mortality was one in 10,000 children infected. Of the over 28 lakh people infected in Kerala in the first and second waves, there were just a little over 2.5 lakh youngsters aged below 18. Also, of the more than 12,000 Covid deaths, only 22 were in the below-18 age group. However, experts said the seroprevalence (percentage of individuals in a population who have antibodies to the virus) among children would have reached 30-40 per cent in the state.
“A good number of children have already been infected. The older population is also better prepared as a result of vaccination and recovering from the infection. There is a natural dying down of the pandemic as happened in the case of H1N1. It is not the delta or delta plus Covid variants that would determine a third wave, but only a major genetic mutation,” said Dr Purushothaman. He said mortality among children will be less and infections treatable even if a third wave happens.
Health experts who have closely watched the genetic mutations of viruses said only a significant variant of concern could cause a third and cause particular damage to the young population. Dr V Ramankutty, a health economist and epidemiologist, said there was no basis for predictions on the third wave which is dependent on a major genetic mutation of the virus.
“A wave will happen when the number of susceptible populations increases and a new variant that spreads faster emerges. Vaccination is key to prevent this as natural immunity after infection tends to wane after six months. However, I see no biological meaning to the statement that children could be vulnerable in the third wave,” said Dr K P Aravindan, a leading pathologist and member of the expert panel on Covid-19.
The experiences from previous waves showed that there was no vertical transmission from a Covid infected mother to a newborn. Even if the latter did get infected later, their chances of survival were much higher. Still, not to be caught off-guard, the health department is implementing a plan to deal with any surge in infection among children during a third wave. Facilities in medical colleges, other government hospitals and private hospitals will be increased as part of this.