COVID-19 was the eighth leading cause of death among U.S. children and young people between August 2021 and July 2022, new research shows.
Throughout the same period, COVID-19 was the top cause of death from an infectious or respiratory disease among children, while deaths were the highest in this age group during the delta and omicron waves.
Findings are based on information gleaned from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) database.
“These results demonstrate that while it’s rare for kids and teens to die in the US, COVID-19 is now the leading underlying cause of death from infectious disease for this age group,” said lead study author Seth Flaxman, an associate professor in the department of computer science at the University of Oxford.
“Many of the 82 million American children and young people were infected during the big Delta and Omicron waves, and as a result more than 1,300 children and young people have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic, most in the last two years,” Flaxman said in a statement.
During the time period studied, COVID-19 accounted for 2 percent of all causes of death among Americans aged 0 to 19. Children under the age of one year were the most vulnerable to COVID-19, with a death rate of 4 per 100,000.
Overall, the COVID-19 death rate among those from age 0 to 19 was one per 100,000. The disease ranked ahead of influenza and pneumonia, which collectively had a death rate of 0.6 per 100,000 young people.
Perinatal conditions were the leading cause of death, with a rate of 12.7 per 100,000.
Taken together, the findings show “COVID-19 is far from a harmless infection in children,” said study author Oliver Ratmann of the department of mathematics at Imperial College London.
Researchers also looked at data collected as early as 2019 to better understand COVID-19 death rates before vaccines were available.
“If you look at infectious diseases in children in the US historically, in the period before vaccines became available, hepatitis A, rotavirus, rubella, and measles were all major causes of death,” said author Robbie M. Parks, an assistant professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
“But when we compared those diseases to COVID-19, we found that COVID-19 caused substantially more deaths in children and young people than those other diseases did before vaccines became available.”
Due to underreporting and other factors, researchers note their estimates may understate the actual mortality burden of COVID-19 in this age group. The study also focused on deaths directly caused by COVID-19, and not those where COVID-19 was listed as a contributing cause.
As COVID-19 variants continue to circulate, researchers stress vaccinations, ventilation and staying home while sick is still important to help limit transmission and mitigate severe disease in this age group.