A new study has found that racial disparities in the severity of COVID-19, well documented among adults, also occur among children.
The research, conducted by a team from the UK and published today in JAMA Pediatrics, compared testing rates and hospitalisation rates across 2.5 million British children of different races.
The team found that white children were more likely to be tested, while children from other ethnic backgrounds were less likely to be tested. More concerning, children from minority ethnic backgrounds were more likely to test positive for COVID-19, Asian children were more likely to be hospitalised and admitted to intensive care, and black and mixed-race children had to spend longer times in hospital than white children.
The new research adds to a significant and growing corpus of evidence that COVID-19’s impacts are not uniformly felt, but can be far more severe for people from ethnic minority backgrounds.
According to the study authors, testing rates have been shown to differ across racial groups for other pandemics and diseases, including HIV and cervical cancer, a situation they attribute to “structural discrimination, distrust of healthcare establishments, and the wider social determinants of health.”
It’s well documented that healthcare outcomes can be worse for people from ethnic minority backgrounds for a range of complex, interrelated reasons. Stress is often distributed unevenly across racial groups, with research suggesting that higher stress – or more stressors – correlate with poorer health outcomes among ethnic minority groups. Epigenetic factors can also play a role in poorer health, as well as racial biases in clinical trials.
The authors note that further study is needed to tease out the reasons behind the disparities in COVID-19 outcomes among minority children, and advocate for race and ethnicity tailored reviews of healthcare more broadly.
Amalyah Hart is a science journalist based in Melbourne.
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