Kids 5 to 14 Account for Highest Number of COVID Cases in Europe, Delta Still Dominant: WHO

The World Health Organization reported Tuesday that European children ages 5 to 14 now have the highest rates of COVID-19 in the region, and infection rates could increase from both the omicron and delta variants.

According to The World Health Organization's Europe office, in certain areas COVID-19 was present two to three times more in children than in the average population. The organization reported that the omicron variant has added 432 confirmed cases to the region still battling the delta variant.

Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO Europe regional director warned not only about the risks of children getting sick, but spreading the virus to their loved ones during holiday breaks.

"As school holidays approach, we must also acknowledge that children contaminate their parents and grandparents at home, with a 10 times increased risk for these adults to develop severe disease, be hospitalized or die when non-vaccinated. The health risks extend beyond the children themselves," Kluge said.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the chief medical advisor for the Biden Administration said the new omicron COVID-19 variant seems to more highly transmissible than the delta variant. Fauci also told the Agence France-Presse that omicron is "clearly highly transmissible", but "almost certainly is not more severe than delta."

Children on carousel
Europe reported Tuesday that children ages 5 to 14 now have the highest rates of COVID-19 in the region, threatened to increase from both the omicron and delta variants. Children, some wearing face masks, enjoy a carousel ride at a Christmas fair in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

Kluge also argued that vaccine mandates should be "an absolute last resort," and said that COVID-19 deaths remain "significantly below previous peaks." But he said that coronavirus cases and deaths have more than doubled in the last two months in the 53-country region stretching to central Asia.

"The delta variant remains dominant across Europe and Central Asia, and we know that the COVID-19 vaccines remain effective in reducing severe disease and deaths from it," he told reporters from WHO Europe headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. "It is yet to be seen how and whether the latest COVID-19 variant of concern, omicron, will be more transmissible, or more or less severe."

Kluge urged countries to "protect children and the schools" amid the rapid increase in cases among the young in the region. Children have tended to face less severe cases than more vulnerable populations like older people, health care workers and people with weaker immune systems.

WHO's European region has the global epicenter of the pandemic for weeks, accounting for 70 percent of cases and 61 percent of deaths worldwide according to the U.N. health agency's weekly epidemiological report issued last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.