Coronavirus infections were rising exponentially among five- to 17-year-olds in September, coinciding with the start of the autumn school term in England, new research suggests.
The study, conducted by Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori between September 9 and September 27, suggests the infection rate is growing among those aged under 18 and falling among those aged 18-54.
The findings from the React-1 study also support the need for vaccine boosters, with a higher prevalence of double-jabbed people testing positive within three to six months of their vaccination.
Researchers say it is important the vaccination programme maintains high coverage and reaches children and unvaccinated or partially vaccinated adults, to reduce transmission and associated disruptions to work and education.
However, relatively few pupils aged five to 17 have been vaccinated in the UK, though single doses are now being offered to those aged 12 to 15 years old.
Earlier this week, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi urged parents to get their children vaccinated against Covid-19 amid concerns about the vaccination programme in secondary schools.
It came after the latest Office for National Statistics figures showed that around one in 15 children in Years 7 to 11 in England is estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to October 2.
Provisional data from the government’s coronavirus dashboard suggests that 11.7 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds in England have been vaccinated as of October 10, compared with 38.9 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds in Scotland.
Analysis by Tes has shown that, in some areas of England, teenage vaccination rates are as low as three per cent.
Figures from the Department for Education have shown increasing Covid rates in school during September.
The most recent data showed more than 200,000 pupils were off for Covid-related reasons at the end of last month – up 67 per cent on two weeks earlier.
This included more than 100,000 pupils with an actual case of the virus and another 84,000 suspected cases.
School staff unions have called on the government to tighten restrictions around self-isolation in schools and asked the education secretary to take further action in response to the rising Covid cases.
According to today’s React study, overall vaccine effectiveness against infection was estimated to be around 63 to 66 per cent.
More than 100,000 volunteers took part in the study to examine the levels of Covid-19 in the general population.
The latest data shows that prevalence of the virus in the population in England has increased to 0.83 per cent.
Regionally, prevalence ranged from 0.57 per cent in the South East to 1.25 per cent in Yorkshire and The Humber.
There was evidence of growth in both East Midlands and London, with an R rate of 1.36 and 1.59 respectively.
Among households with one or more children, prevalence was also higher, at 1.32 per cent, compared with 0.42 per cent in households without children.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “This data demonstrates that while our vaccination programme continues to make a huge difference, the pandemic is not over.
“As we move towards winter, it is as important as ever that we continue to act responsibly in order to avoid transmission.”
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React programme from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “Our latest data shows that infections are high and rising in school-aged children.
“Households with children also had a higher prevalence of infection, suggesting that children may be passing on the virus to those that they live with.
“These trends reinforce how important it is for children aged 12 and above to get vaccinated and help curb the spread of infection, and minimise disruption to education.”