Globally nearly 20 per cent of children with cancer, who get infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19, tend to develop more severe infections than those without cancer, according to an international study published in the journal The Lancet Oncology.
However, overall only 1-6 per cent of children have reported severe infections.
The study led by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee, US, showed that in addition to more severe or critical infections, pediatric cancer patients were more likely to be hospitalised (65 per cent), require admission or transfer to a higher level of care (17 per cent) and die (4 per cent) due to Covid-19 infections as compared to 0.01-0.7 per cent mortality reported among general paediatric patients.
The pandemic disrupted cancer treatment. Cancer therapy was modified in 56 per cent of patients and 45 per cent had chemotherapy withheld while their infections were treated.
These effects were observed more significantly in low- and middle-income countries, where the odds of severe or critical disease from Covid-19 were nearly six times higher than in high-income countries.
“The results clearly and definitively show that children with cancer fare worse with Covid-19 than children without cancer,” said Sheena Mukkada, St Jude’s Departments of Global Pediatric Medicine and Infectious Diseases.
The analysis looked at 1,500 children from 131 hospitals in 45 countries from April 15, 2020, to February 1, 2021. This is prior to vaccinations becoming available to older children in some areas of the globe as well as prior to the emergence of certain disease variants, including delta, which are responsible for the new Covid-19 surge and have become a major global concern.
The study suggests biologic factors that likely influence how children with cancer respond to Covid-19. Those include immune system function and the underlying disease.
The researchers stressed the importance of vaccinating children against Covid-19 as they have demonstrated to be safe and effective in preventing severe forms of the disease, helping patients avoid hospitalisations and the need for mechanical ventilation.