Three-quarters of children aged between five and 14 in England have been infected with Covid, experts estimate, amid signs the epidemic in young people is falling.
Real-time data from the MRC Biostatistics Unit (BSU), at the University of Cambridge, suggested that nearly half of school-age youngsters under the age of 15 caught the virus between the beginning of September and October 20 – taking the total infected to 76 per cent.
The huge number of infections in school-age children has been largely behind the steep rises in cases over the past month, but scientists now believe that many youngsters susceptible to the illness have already been infected.
Latest data from the Government’s coronavirus dashboard shows that positive tests are now falling in line with modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which has forecast a sharp drop around the start of November.
The BSU data also shows that around 55 per cent of one to four-year-olds have been infected, as well as 71 per cent of the 15 to 24-year-olds.
Separate analysis by The Telegraph shows that cases have now peaked for the under-20s and have started to fall. The rolling daily average hit 134.4 cases per 100,000 on October 19, and has since dropped 2.5 per cent to 131.1 per 100.000.
Children aged between 10 and 14 have seen the biggest decrease in the same period, with a fall of nearly three per cent.
Meaghan Kall, an epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency, cautioned that the October half term could be driving some of the decline, but said that the high numbers infected may suggest the children’s epidemic is waning.
“I am prepared to bet that England has seen the peak of cases in children,” she wrote on social media.
Older people ‘greatest priority’ for vaccine
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday showed that although 99 per cent of the 70 to 79-year-olds are fully vaccinated, only 86 per cent still have antibodies, demonstrating a worrying waning of immunity over time. Similar falls are seen in those aged 60 to 69, as well as the over-80s.
Many of the people in the sample who tested negative for antibodies in the most recent week had received their vaccinations in the early stages of the rollout, the ONS said.
In contrast, 92 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds have antibodies, even though just 81 per cent have been double jabbed.
Duncan Cook, head of analysis for the Covid-19 Infection Survey said: “Antibody positivity remains high across the UK population. It is increasing in younger adults, though we have seen a small decline, since June, in older age groups.”
Case rates are beginning to fall in the over-80s, suggesting that the booster programme is starting to have an impact. However, around two million people are becoming eligible for a third jab each week, as they hit the six-month mark from their second dose.
Experts said that the high infection levels and antibody levels in youngsters made them less of a priority for jabs.
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at The Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia, said: “In terms of vaccine policy, these observations would argue that more priority be given to boosting older and more vulnerable individuals than on improving take up in the 16 to 24 age group.
“However, the greatest priority remains persuading those older and more vulnerable individuals who have so far not come forward for their primary course to do so.”
Overall, around nine in 10 adults in all parts of the UK continue to have Covid-19 antibodies, the ONS data suggests.
The estimates range from 90 per cent in Wales to 92 per cent in England, with 90 per cent for Northern Ireland and 91 per cent for Scotland.
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