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How dangerous is the delta variant to children and young people?

The rapid spread of a more infectious strain of covid-19 has left health experts concerned about the risk that it poses to unvaccinated people.

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How dangerous is the delta variant to children and young people?
EMILY ELCONIN REUTERS

On Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the more infectious delta variant of covid-19 now makes up 83% of new cases in the United States. CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky confirmed the news in a Senate committee hearing, saying: "This is a dramatic increase, up from 50% for the week of July 3.”

It is thought that the delta variant is the most contagious variant of covid-19 so far identified with Andy Slavitt, a former senior adviser to Joe Biden's Covid Response Team, claiming “it’s twice as infectious.”

Worryingly, the increase infection rate is thought to be heightening the risk to one group who had previously been thought of as fairly safe, with more and more young people now testing positive for covid-19.

Delta variant could pose greater risk to children

Despite being highly contagious, experts believe that the existing covid-19 vaccines are still very effective against the delta variant. However this poses a risk to young people who are not yet eligible to receive a vaccination.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has confirmed that more than 4 million children had been diagnosed with covid-19 in the United States as of 8 July, representing 14.2% of all cases. Of that, 335 children aged 17 or younger are known to have died from the virus.

The risk of serious complications in children remains rare but health experts warn that the more transmissible variants, such as delta, increase the risk to young people while they remain unvaccinated.

Dr Carlos Oliveira, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine, told NBC News: “Last year, for example, you would have to give a child a really high infectious dose to make them sick, but with the virus that's more contagious, even what would be an insignificant exposure could get them sick.”

How to minimise the risk of the delta variant to children

As it stands there are no imminent plans to open up covid-19 vaccinations to those under the age of 12, with one Food and Drug Administration official saying recently that it may be well into winter before they start to receive the vaccines.

Many parents will be thinking about how that affects their children’s safety at summer camps, on vacation, and even looking ahead to the next school year. Dr Jim Versalovic of the Texas Children's Hospital warned that the delta variant “is spreading like wildfire.”

He added: “That means that we have to be extra careful among those who are unvaccinated and partially vaccinated. We're very concerned about children under 12 who have no access to the vaccine right now."

As it stands the best way to protect your children is to ensure that those they are in regular contact with are full vaccinated to help insulate them from the virus. For more information on how to reduce the risk of covid-19 infection, check out the latest guidance from the CDC website.