There is a very disturbing increase in serious cases of COVID-19 among young people, according to a report released Sunday by the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center.
“There is a clear decrease in serious illness among those ages 60 and older,” the report said. “There is an increase in the number of patients in serious condition among younger groups, which last week constituted about 40% of new serious cases.”
According to Health Ministry data, almost 75% of people diagnosed over the weekend were under 40 years old, while only around 7% over 60.
On Sunday morning, 1,008 people were considered in serious condition, a slight increase from the day before, when 973 people were in serious condition.
Of the serious cases, 38% were under the age of 60. Last week, only around 34% of cases were younger people. At the peak of the third wave, around January 20, it was only 26%.
This constitutes a 53% increase in the number of serious cases under the age of 60 in the last month.
The cause, according to Prof. Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Bar-Ilan University, is two-fold. On the one hand, the more the older population is protected by the vaccine, it is inherent that the younger, less protected population will contract the virus and therefore be the relatively dominant population in the hospitals.
“The more cases, the greater likelihood a percentage of those people will end up in the hospital – kids, pregnant women and people under 40 years old in general,” Cohen said.
On the other hand, he said, it is beginning to be understood that the British variant is not only more contagious but is likely also more lethal.
The British variant, according to the Knowledge Center report, has become the dominant strain in the country.
“The strain is known to be much more contagious compared to previous strains,” the report said, “and according to new studies in the United Kingdom, it is also more lethal by between 30% and 70% compared to the original virus strain.”
Prof. Galia Rahav, head of the Infectious Disease Unit and Laboratories at Sheba Medical Center, told The Jerusalem Post that genetic sequencing of pregnant women who are in serious condition has shown that the majority were infected by the British mutation.
At Sheba, as of Sunday morning, there were 55 patients in serious condition. Among them, 13 in the coronavirus intensive care unit being run by Dr. Yael Haviv Hadid. She told the Post that of those patients, five of them are being treated on ECMO machines – all of them under 54 years old.
In addition, there were five people intubated – all of them under the age of 55.
“We see young patients much more serious than we ever saw with young people in the past,” Haviv Hadid said.
She stressed that the “optimism of the politicians” is misplaced and that even though the total number of serious patients is going down, the fight for the life of a 45-year-old is more “more extreme” and “more difficult” than when the person is older.
“We fight hard for everyone,” she said. “But a 45-year-old on ECMO – this is a very difficult situation.”
It should be noted that until now the data show that the rate of deaths of people under the age of 19 remains low. According to data presented Sunday morning by the Health Ministry, only eight people under the age of 20 have died thus far. Twenty-two people died between the ages of 20 and 29 and 104 between the ages of 30 and 49.
There have been 570,680 patients under the age of 50 to date, meaning that only 0.02% of young people who were infected died.
However, Rahav explained that even though these people may not die, a higher and growing percentage are experiencing what are known as post-coronavirus symptoms, which can range from fatigue and shortness of breath to fast or pounding heartbeat or memory, concentration or sleep problems. Some people experience chest pains and headaches.
A report by the Mayo Clinic showed that imaging tests taken months after recovery from COVID-19 have shown lasting damage to the heart muscle and the lungs.
“Even in young people, COVID-19 can cause strokes, seizures and Guillain-Barre syndrome — a condition that causes temporary paralysis,’ the Mayor Clinic explained on its website. “COVID-19 may also increase the risk of developing Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.”
“Don’t think that when it's over, corona is over for these young people,” Rahav stressed. “They had corona and they got better, but now they have all kinds of other issues.”
Rahav said that the hope is that soon children between the ages of 12 and 16 would be able to get vaccinated, which will help protect them and ensure the country achieves herd immunity.
Oxford University announced over the weekend that it is launching a new study in which 300 child volunteers between six and 17 will take part to gauge if its vaccine works in children.
For now, Haviv Hadid said that everyone 16 and older should take advantage of Israel’s Pfizer vaccine campaign and get the jab.
“If young people go and get vaccinated, that would be wonderful,” she said. “If not, for those that are not going to get vaccinated, they should at least wear masks and social distance.
“People need to take responsibility for themselves,” she continued.
She said she sees too many young people in all sectors not getting vaccinated and not being careful, adding that if the government makes a decision to open up too quickly, Israel will quickly be back where it started.
“I don’t understand why people don’t care,” she added. “Why is an entire country frozen because people do not think they are part of the national mission? This is haredim, Arabs, the people on the beach in Tel Aviv. In the end, everyone will get sick.”
“We are fighting today for the lives of young patients aged 44, 46, 47 and 50 who deteriorated over the weekend,” said Prof. Ze’ev Feldman, director of the Department of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Sheba and chairman of the World Fellowship of the Israeli Medical Association.
“The pressure to open up everything will bring us to a fourth closure,” he said. “The health system and the medical staff continue to be stretched to their limits. You should stop and listen to the Health Ministry and act responsibly.”