Experts from Mumbai have warned that the anticipated third wave of Covid-19 may be challenging for children as lack of Covid-appropriate behaviour may be the reason behind an uptick in cases among children. However, there are also others who are saying it is not a matter of immediate concern. Children with co-morbidities may be in danger of severe illness, but this was also the case during the first and second waves, they said.
As schools in India reopen for the new academic session, students will return to offline classes unvaccinated and vulnerable amid trials for a vaccine meant for those aged between 12 and 18. With the highly contagious delta variant causing a surge, the number of Covid-19 cases in children has increased since the beginning of July.
In Mumbai, a boarding school was recently sealed when 22 people, including students, tested positive. Dr Hemant Deshmukh, dean of KEM Hospital, said: “This is related to not maintaining Covid-appropriate behaviour, whether it’s teachers, students or the public at large. Be it delta or delta plus variant, both are efficient in transmitting disease.”
Dr Deshmukh added, “In schools or orphanages, facilities such as sleeping and eating are shared. Now these children are not vaccinated, so they are more prone to contracting the infection. Also, those helping them should follow Covid-appropriate behaviour and should be vaccinated.”
A committee of experts, formed by National Institute of Disaster Management, has said children will face similar risk as adults. The report said paediatric facilities, doctors and critical care equipment are nowhere close to what may be required if large numbers of children become infected.
Dr Deshmukh, however, said the new jumbo Covid centres in Mumbai were ready with 30,000 beds in case of a third wave, of which 20 per cent were for children. “Kids will mostly be isolated at home and, in case of severe infection, all medical colleges are equipped to treat such cases,” he said.
The positivity rate among children was 5 per cent, but a large chunk was asymptomatic, he said. “Children who are admitted are ones with comorbidities… most children will get milder symptoms if infected,” he added.
There isn’t sufficient data that says the impact on children will be more severe if a third wave hits. But as the virus continues to evolve, it may be a major challenge in the absence of vaccination for children.
Dr Prabhu, medical director, Wadia Children’s Hospital, Mumbai, said it was not a matter of concern as of now. “I don’t think it’s something to worry about; it looks like an outbreak and because they were tested, they came out to be positive. This means most were asymptomatic… Even in our hospital, after June, we have not any positive cases of children,” he said.
Dr Prabhu also said an analysis showed that only those children with comorbidities fell severely ill, be it in the first or second wave. “Yes, number of infections in children was higher in the second wave, but most had mild symptoms or no symptom at all,” he added.
The paediatric staff had been trained and sensitised, and there was a special task force providing guidelines to increase capacity in case of a third wave, said Dr Prabhu.
According to the ministry of health and family welfare, out of all the children hospitalised due to Covid, 60 to 70 per cent had co-morbidities or low immunity. Children have also been seen to develop MIS-C (multi-system inflammatory syndrome), which is a rare but extremely serious condition developed post-Covid recovery.
(With agency inputs)