A true saving grace of the pandemic is that Covid-19 poses far less risk to children than to adults, particularly older adults. But in rare cases, it has made children and young adults severely sick or even been fatal.
In a new report that analyzed fatal Covid-19 cases in Americans under age 20, researchers found that some of the same patterns of deaths in older populations carried over to younger populations: There was a disproportionate burden among children and young adults with underlying health conditions and those who were Latinx, Black, or American Indian or Alaska Native.
The report also found that 18- to 20-year-olds accounted for nearly half of the 121 deaths in the group during the time period studied — mid-February to the end of July — adding to the evidence that younger children generally are less likely to get seriously ill from Covid-19. Still, 10% of fatal cases occurred in children under 1 year old.
The report, from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments, was published Tuesday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Overall, of the 121 people under 21 who died from Covid-19 complications, 45% were Latinx, 29% were Black, 14% were white, and 4% were American Indian or Alaska Native. Seventy-five percent of the fatal cases were among children and young adults with existing medical problems, most commonly chronic lung diseases like asthma, obesity, neurologic or developmental conditions, or heart conditions.
The tally of deaths include 15 that stemmed from what’s been named multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C. It’s a rare but serious condition that typically develops two to four weeks after a case of Covid-19 and involves severe inflammation affecting a range of organs. So far, doctors think it’s most likely to occur in children older than 5. Most kids recover, but a few cases have been fatal.
In accounting for the differences in death rates by race and ethnicity, the researchers pointed to the challenges minority groups often face getting care. The groups are also “disproportionately represented among essential workers unable to work from their homes, resulting in higher risk for exposure to SARS-CoV-2 with potential secondary transmission among household members, including infants, children, adolescents, and young adults,” the researchers wrote. “In addition, disparities in social determinants of health, such as crowded living conditions, food and housing insecurity, wealth and educational gaps, and racial discrimination, likely contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 and MIS-C incidence and outcomes.”
Overall, the 121 deaths of people under 21 accounted for just .08% of all Covid-19 deaths in the country through July, the researchers reported. But they warned that the incidence of cases among children could change as day cares and schools reopen and children started having contact with more people.