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Incidence and Relative Risk of COVID-19 in Adolescents and Youth Compared With Older Adults in 19 US States, Fall 2020

Educational Objective
To identify the key insights or developments described in this article
1 Credit CME
Key Points

Question  How do incidence and relative risk of contracting COVID-19 from the original wild-type SARS-CoV-2 strain in adolescents and youth compare with that in older adults in the US?

Findings  Results of this cross-sectional study using state health department data from the start of the pandemic through fall 2020 indicate that, in 16 of the 19 states examined, the incidence rate and relative risk of COVID-19 infection from wild-type SARS-CoV-2 were significantly greater in adolescents and youth than in older adults. For example, in Florida, the incidence rate in adolescents and youth was 0.055 compared with 0.028 in older adults—adolescents and youth had 1.94 times the risk of contracting COVID-19 compared with older adults.

Meaning  These results suggest that, contrary to reports from Europe and Asia, infection rates and relative risk among US adolescents and youth exceeded that in older adults from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic through fall 2020, before vaccines were available.

Abstract

Importance  Adolescents have been thought to be low in susceptibility to COVID-19 compared with older adults. Data regarding incidence and risk of COVID-19 are needed to convey risk of infection and inform prevention messaging, especially because US states such as Florida are recommending against vaccinating individuals ages 5 to 17 years and because more infections among adolescents could signal potentially higher incidence of long COVID.

Objective  To compare incidence rates and relative risk of infection among US adolescents and youth with those of older adults for wild-type SARS-CoV-2.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This cross-sectional study included persons living in 19 US states that experienced surges from the start of the pandemic through fall 2020. Participants were all individuals reported as cases on state health department websites for the age groups and states studied. Age groups included adolescents (ages 10 to 19 years), youth (ages 15 to 24 years or 18 to 24 years), adolescents and youth combined (ages 10 to 24 years), and older adults (either age 60 years or 65 years and older), with age thresholds dependent on individual state data. Data were analyzed between June 2021 and January 2022.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Incidence rates for the wild-type SARS-CoV-2 strain; the relative risk of infection in adolescents and youth compared with older adults, based on the incidence rate ratio (IRR).

Results  In 16 of 19 states, the IRR of COVID-19 infection in adolescents and youth was significantly greater than in older adults. For example, in Florida, the incidence rate in adolescents and youth was 0.055 compared with 0.028 in older adults—adolescents and youth had 1.94 times the risk of contracting COVID-19 compared with older adults (IRR, 1.94; 95% CI, 1.92-1.95).

Conclusions and Relevance  Results from this cross-sectional study with US data were contrary to studies from Asia and Europe indicating lower susceptibility of adolescents than older adults. Our findings with the wild-type strain were consistent with findings reported in the UK for the Delta variant and underscored that even with the wild-type lineage, incidence among adolescents and youth exceeded that in older adults.

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Article Information

Accepted for Publication: May 27, 2022.

Published: July 15, 2022. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.22126

Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2022 Schneiderman M et al. JAMA Network Open.

Corresponding Author: Barbara Rumain, PhD, Department of Pediatrics, New York Medical College, 40 Sunshine Cottage Rd, Valhalla, New York 10595 (barbara.rumain@touro.edu).

Author Contributions: Dr. Rumain had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Concept and design: All authors.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.

Drafting of the manuscript: Schneiderman, Rumain, Kagnaovskiy.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.

Statistical analysis: All authors.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

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