8 of 10 kids in Delhi have Covid antibodies
Experts argued that the statistic meant that schools could safely be reopened for children, who likely do not develop severe Covid-19 symptoms
Despite not being vaccinated against the coronavirus disease, nearly 82% of Delhi residents aged below 18 have were found to have antibodies against the Sars-Cov-2 virus, according to the preliminary report of the city’s sixth serological survey made public on Thursday. Experts cited this widespread seroprevalence among Delhi’s children to argue for the reopening of schools, a move that the state government announced just a day earlier.
The antibody-prevalence among children falls just six percentage points short of Delhi’s unadjusted seroprevalence of 88.2%, according to the data. When adjusted for the sensitivity of the kits, Delhi’s overall seroprevalence stands at 97%.
Health experts said the statistic was evidence that while a large number of children were infected with Covid-19, they were mostly asymptomatic, as a result of which eight in 10 of Delhi’s children have safely gained antibodies against the infection.
“What this means is that even though children were not hospitalised or always tested for the infection, they were infected asymptomatically and developed antibodies that will protect them against infections in the future. Now, we should open up schools, albeit keep in place some measures to be safe such as staggering the timing to reduce the number of people physically present at a given time, wearing masks, hand hygiene etc,” said Dr Pragya Sharma, who spearheaded the sero survey and is a professor of community medicine at Maulana Azad Medical College.
She, however, said that once vaccines do become available the children should be immunised to protect those who did not get the infection or have other co-morbidities.
The results of Delhi’s sixth sero survey come a day after the state government allowed schools to resume in-person classes for children of all standards, a decision driven primarily after a marked improvement in the city’s Covid-19 situation.
Delhi on Thursday added 42 cases of Covid-19, on the back of just over 63,000 tests, and at a positivity rate of 0.07%.
The city’s Covid-19 caseload has been at record lows, since a fourth wave of the infection began to flatten out in May. As of Thursday, 345 people in the city are recovering from the infection, a remarkable drop from of 99,752 active cases at the peak of this year’s April-May surge.
The surge, experts said, along with the strong pace and spread of vaccinations have ensured Delhi’s 97% seroprevalence, a number that could explain why Delhi’s cases have remained low despite the city having lifted most curbs on activities. The average weekly positivity rate of samples has remained under 0.10% since late July.
Dr Sanjay Rai, head of the department of community medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) said, “Even our study showed that the prevalence among children is almost the same as adults. They are likely to develop antibodies without getting severe disease. There are several studies now that show natural infection produces better and longer immunity, which means children are protected. Schools should be opened up completely now. We are now compromising the education and mental development of children.”
The study by AIIMS in collaboration with the World Health Organization, for which samples were collected in April and May during the peak of the second wave, showed that the seroprevalence, the presence of antibodies against Sars-CoV-2, among children was 55.7% across five study sites, in comparison to 63.5% among adults — the difference was judged to be statistically insignificant.
“As nearly 80% of children got natural immunity – they were not vaccinated. We can also assume that a similar proportion of adults developed immunity through natural infection. The rest developed it through vaccination. Now, it is time to go back to normalcy,” said Rai.
Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the department of community medicine at Safdarjung hospital, said it was essential to call children back to the classroom.
“We have always maintained when there are cases in the house, children also got infected. Several sero surveys previously also showed similar seroprevalence in adults and children. We never said that third wave will affect children. We should open up schools, it is high time. The children do not have severe disease. It will take a long time to recoup the loss during this period-- many have entered labour force and now they might never return back to work. Precautions like masking and hand washing should be maintained,” he said.
Last month, a body of experts brought out a report stating schools must be reopened for in-person teaching for all age groups, a collective of epidemiologists has recommended, saying there was no evidence it would lead to a greater infection risk among children and that keeping them home will instead lead to lasting social and developmental impairment and increase inequality among privileged and underprivileged children.
“In fact, the younger children are less likely to get severe disease and their classes should be started,” said Dr Suneela Garg, professor of community medicine at Maulana Azad Medical College.