How prevalent is long-COVID among children? It depends who you ask

“The Israeli Ministry of Health conducted a survey (rather than a study), making telephone calls to parents of children aged between 3 and 18 who had recovered from COVID. No control group was selected. But that didn’t stop the Ministry from publishing: ‘Results of the Long-COVID Survey Among Children in Israel’ and drawing various conclusions.”

While the differences between countries’ vaccination programs sometimes make it hard to draw conclusions about the effects of vaccines on health, this is not true for children, who have yet to be systematically vaccinated anywhere.

And yet, depending on the country, the risk to children from COVID infection and the supposed benefit derived from vaccination is being portrayed very differently.

“The world’s biggest study” into long-COVID in English children concluded last month that around two percent of children may suffer from long-term complications following COVID infection, with most of the persistent symptoms being mild. The study was headed by researchers from University College London.

However, a survey that was conducted in Israel by the Ministry of Health drew very different conclusions, suggesting that over ten percent of children were likely to experience long-term complications.

The first study was conducted in England and surveyed over 50,000 children between the ages of 11 and 17, including a control group who had never tested positive for COVID. 53% of those in the control group reported at least one symptom that persisted over 15 weeks, as opposed to 65% in the coronavirus-positive group. Symptoms reported included headaches, tiredness, and breathing difficulties.

Among those who reported three or more symptoms, 30% of those in the COVID-positive group reported them as compared to 16% in the COVID-negative group.

However, researchers noted that the true percentage of long-COVID sufferers is certainly much lower because a) many of the symptoms were unrelated to COVID, as the comparison with the control group showed; b) only 13% of those asked to respond did so. Given that those who are suffering ongoing symptoms are more likely to respond, the researchers suggested that less than two percent of teens actually suffer from long-COVID.

Furthermore, many symptoms were clearly linked to government coronavirus regulations (most notably, lockdown and social isolation) and also to stress and anxiety, rather than infection itself, as the researchers noted.

The Israeli Ministry of Health conducted a survey (rather than a study), making telephone calls to parents of children aged between 3 and 18 who had recovered from COVID. No control group was selected. But that didn’t stop the Ministry from publishing: “Results of the Long-COVID Survey Among Children in Israel” and drawing various conclusions.

13,834 parents responded to the survey, which found that 11.2% of infected children experienced long-COVID, and between 1.8% and 4.6% of infected children experienced symptoms for more than six months from the time of acute illness. The Ministry also found that the older the child, the more likely it was that he would experience long-COVID.

The survey cautioned that some of the symptoms could not be definitively attributed to COVID, given that during the period studied, Israel experienced a war, school closures, and lockdowns, which “could have affected children’s well-being.”

Nonetheless, the authors of the survey concluded that: “It is evident that coronavirus has long term effects not only on the adult population but among children as well. The rate of reported long-term infection means that there are thousands of children in Israel who experience long term symptoms.”

Next week, the Israeli government is expected to decide on expanding the vaccination program to the 5 to 12 age group. Ahead of the meeting, several top health officials have expressed their hope that the government will authorize the shots.

“The vaccine is going to help not just with immediate symptoms but also with more long-lasting effects [of infection],” said Dr. Itai Pesach, director of Sheba Children’s Hospital. Also interviewed by Army Radio was his deputy, Dr. Moshe Ashkenazi, who said, “There’s no reason in the world not to vaccinate children. We have information from all over the world on the aggressive Delta strain and how it disproportionately affects children. Here in Israel, more children are getting infected in the current wave of the virus in comparison to previous waves.”

Meanwhile, Prof. Joseph Press, a former director of Schneider’s Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikvah, told Ami magazine that he is “genuinely concerned that coronavirus is going to turn into a children’s disease.

“As I follow what’s going on here and in the rest of the world, I am worried that this epidemic is going to turn into something that affects primarily children,” he said. “It’s our obligation to speed up the vaccination of children, including those under the age of twelve. There’s simply no choice. Otherwise—and this is what I’m really concerned about—we could end up with what happened with Asian flu and other diseases, which became diseases that attack children once adults were vaccinated against them.

“Unfortunately, people are worried about potential side-effects for children, but that’s one hundred percent fake news,” he asserted. “There’s nothing whatsoever to be concerned about. Children should be vaccinated as soon as possible.”

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