A variant of COVID-19 discovered in Britain has now been linked to an uptick in new cases of the virus in Italy. The virus is prevalent among schoolchildren, said Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza, and has been associated with higher transmission rates “among the youngest age group” of the population, according to an AP story.
Italy’s new cases among young people have eclipsed those among older people in recent weeks. That’s a reversal of how COVID-19 affected the country earlier in the pandemic.
In order to deal with the uptick, Italy has designated “red zones” where schools will be closed to contain the virus. Towns and cities have been sealed off where the transmission rate of the virus is increasing. In Bologna, the mayor announced that starting March 21, the city will be under “red zone” lockdown rules. All restaurants, cafes and non-essential shops will be closed. Italy’s death toll from the virus of more than 98,000 is second only to Britain’s in Europe.
The new Italian Premier, Mario Draghi, said that there will be closures as needed until after Easter, which will include all schools, including nursery and elementary, that are located in the red zone regions. There will be some exceptions made for students with special needs.
The spread brings up the question of whether children should receive the vaccine, as anyone who is unvaccinated can potentially spread the virus.
According to Healthine, the Moderna vaccine and the recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine are only available for adults ages 18 and older while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for people ages 16 and older.
More trials need to be done before the vaccine is given to children. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with ProPublica recently that vaccine manufactures are currently in the process of testing the vaccine on younger children using a process called de-escalation.
“We’re in the process of starting clinical trials in what we call age de-escalation, where you do a clinical trial with people 16 to 12, then 12 to 9, then 9 to 6,” Fauci said. When asked what was the youngest age group that might be authorized for the vaccine by September, he said, “I would think by the time we get to school opening, we likely will be able to get people who come into the first grade.”
In the end, the more vaccinated people, the better, say health experts.
“We are just beginning to learn about what might be the long-term implications of having had COVID, and as time goes by, years go by, we will likely see the long-term impact of the infection,” Ann Muñana, DNP, a master instructor at Chamberlain University and a member of the Chicago Department of Public Health COVID Vaccine Scientific Workgroup told Healthline.
“We don’t know how a child, or an adult for that matter, who has recovered from COVID might years later experience health issues. For example, respiratory or neurological conditions. Therefore, it is important that we make sure to vaccinate as many as possible, including children, who meet the eligibility criteria for vaccination,” she said.