Covid infections rose exponentially for five-17-year-olds in September, coinciding with the start of the autumn school term in England, new research has revealed.
The study, conducted by Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori, between September 9 and September 27, showed that infections are increasing among those aged under 18, but falling among those aged 18-54.
Only a small number of schoolchildren aged five to 17 have been vaccinated in the UK and currently only single doses are being offered to those aged 12 and over.
However ministers have been criticised for the slow rollout of the vaccination programme in secondary schools and earlier this week urged parents to get their children vaccinated.
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.
It came after the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed that around one in 15 children in school years seven to 11 in England are estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to October 2.
Provisional data from the Government’s coronavirus dashboard suggests that 11.7% of 12- to 15-year-olds in England have been vaccinated as of October 10, compared to 38.9% of 12- to 15-year-olds in Scotland.
According to the React study overall vaccine effectiveness against infection overall was estimated to be around 63%-66%, the study found.
More than 100,000 volunteers took part in the study to examine the levels of Covid-19 in the general population.
The latest data show that prevalence of the virus in the population in England has increased to 0.83%.
Regionally, prevalence ranged from 0.57% in the South East to 1.25% in Yorkshire and The Humber.
There was evidence of growth in both East Midlands and London with R of 1.36 and 1.59 respectively.
Among households with one or more children, prevalence was also higher at 1.32% compared with 0.42% in households without children.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “These data demonstrate 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 show 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.”
Additional reporting by PA