The Delta variant is surging across the globe, and the World Health Organization warns it will rapidly become the world’s dominant strain of COVID-19.

Delta is more infectious than the Alpha variant, and preliminary data suggest children and adolescents are at greater risk of becoming infected with this variant, and transmitting it.

Delta in children and young people

In the United Kingdom, where the Delta variant has been predominating since May, infections are rising fastest among 17-29-year-olds, who are mostly unvaccinated. Infections are also increasing in younger age groups, but at a lower rate.

Overall, increased transmission among children and young people may partly be due to Delta. But also, in countries like the UK, these age groups are most susceptible to infection because older groups have been largely vaccinated.

While we don’t yet have data on the severity of illness in children associated with the Delta variant specifically, we know with COVID generally, kids are much less likely to become very unwell.

Should we vaccinate children?

There are benefits of vaccinating children, particularly teenagers. These include direct protection against the disease, but also reducing transmission to vulnerable adults and enabling continued school attendance.

The risks and benefits need to be carefully calculated in a low transmission setting like Australia. In terms of risks, emerging data suggest the mRNA vaccines Pfizer and Moderna are associated with a very small risk of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the heart lining) in young adolescents and adults, particularly males. Although most cases are mild, it can be a serious condition and is being closely monitored.

What should parents look out for?

With the Delta variant, a headache, sore throat and runny nose are now the most commonly reported symptoms among unvaccinated people.

These symptoms have eclipsed fever and cough, the most common symptoms earlier in the pandemic.

So it’s imperative parents still take their children to be tested if they become unwell, even if the symptoms appear more like the common cold.

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