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Corona mutation B.1.1.7: How dangerous is the British variant for children and adolescents?

Corona mutation B.1.1.7 : How dangerous is the British variant for children and adolescents?

Again and again one reads that B.1.1.7, also known as the British mutation of the coronavirus, particularly often affects children and adolescents. However, this is not scientifically proven. We explain where the assumption comes from.

Again and again one reads that B.1.1.7, also known as the British mutation of the coronavirus, particularly often affects children and adolescents. However, this is not scientifically proven. We explain where the assumption comes from.

Is the coronavirus variant B.1.1.7, which has been circulating in Great Britain since September 2020 and was first detected in Germany at the end of December, really particularly infectious for children and adolescents? This claim persists - but is scientifically correct in part only.

What is true: B.1.1.7 spreads faster than other variants of the coronavirus. A recent analysis by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) states: "Meanwhile, variant B.1.1.7 is the most frequent SARS-CoV-2 variant detected in Germany. This is worrying because B.1.1.7 is more contagious than other variants according to previous findings." Data suggest that the viral mutation is now responsible for more than half of the Corona infections in Germany. At the beginning of March, the proportion was around 55 per cent.

But does B.1.1.7 actually affect children and adolescents more often than people from other age groups? There is currently no scientific evidence for this. A statement by the German Society for Paediatric Infectiology (DGPI) and the German Society for Hospital Hygiene (DGKH) points out that no increased infection rates with the B.1.1.7 mutation could be proven in children. "Initial media reports about an increased risk of infection or transmissibility for children compared to adults have not been confirmed."

RKI: B.1.1.7 more easily transmissible than other variants

Where the assumption of a higher risk of infection among children and adolescents comes from was recently explained by virologist Christian Drosten in the podcast "Coronavirus Update": data from Great Britain showed a strong spread, especially among young people, shortly after the mutation was detected there. However, the conclusion that children and adolescents were more frequently affected by B.1.1.7 could not be substantiated. Drosten explains: "In England, they had a structured lockdown over November." While many recreational facilities were closed, educational facilities and childcare were completely open. "Under those conditions during that time, you could see in south-east England, this mutant is increasing, especially with over-emphasis in schools," Drosten says.

But a short time later, the mutation spread to the rest of the population: "In December, it increasingly decouples from schools, and is seen in the whole population," Drosten explains. This is also the current state of science. According to the RKI, variant B.1.1.7 is "even more easily transmissible from person to person than the previously circulating variants and has a higher reproductive number, making it more difficult to contain its spread".

Researchers estimate B.1.1.7 to be significantly more contagious

In the variant, various proteins on the surface of the virus are altered. These make it easier to introduce the genetic material into human cells. Virologist Christian Drosten of the Berlin Charité assumes that this variant is between 22 and 35 percent more contagious. In a study published in Science at the beginning of March, researchers estimate that the British variant could even be 43 to 90 percent more infectious than existing variants of the coronavirus. However, there are currently no indications that B.1.1.7 is spreading particularly strongly in the age group of children and adolescents.

Original text: Sandra Liermann
Translation: Mareike Graepel