'Secondary Tragedy' of COVID Pandemic: 1 in 500 Kids Lost Parent or Caregiver to Virus

Between April 2020 and the end of June 2021, more than 140,000 children under the age of 18 lost a parent or other caregiver to COVID, a new study found.

The findings of the study, published Thursday in Pediatrics, shows that orphanhood is "a hidden and ongoing secondary tragedy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic" the National Institutes of Health (NIH) wrote.

Overall, the study shows that about one out of every 500 children "has experienced COVID-19-associated orphanhood or death of a grandparent caregiver," the NIH noted.

"All of us – especially our children – will feel the serious immediate and long-term impact of this problem for generations to come," Susan Hillis, a researcher with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the lead author of the study, said in a statement.

"Addressing the loss that these children have experienced – and continue to experience – must be one of our top priorities, and it must be woven into all aspects of our emergency response, both now and in the post-pandemic future," she added.

The CDC, Imperial College London, Harvard University, Oxford University, and the University of Cape Town, South Africa collaborated on the study. It was partially funded by the NIH.

The NIH said that children's lives are "permanently changed" by the loss of a parent or caregiver.

"Loss of a parent is among the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) linked to mental health problems; shorter schooling; lower self-esteem; sexual risk behaviors; and increased risk of substance abuse, suicide, violence, sexual abuse, and exploitation," the NIH said.

140,000 Children Lose Caregiver During Pandemic
Between April 2020 and the end of June 2021, more than 140,000 children in the United States under the age of 18 lost a parent or other caregiver, a new study has found. Above, students line up in the morning at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on September 27, 2021 in New York City. Michael Loccisano

The study estimated that just over 120,000 U.S. children lost a primary caregiver, "a parent or grandparent responsible for providing housing, basic needs and care" because of a COVID-19-related death.

Another 22,000 children saw the death of a secondary, caregiver, or a grandparent who provided housing "but not most basic needs."

"The magnitude of young people affected is a sobering reminder of the devastating impact of the past 18 months," Dr Alexandra Blenkinsop, a researcher from Imperial College London and the co-lead researcher on the study, said in a statement.

"These findings really highlight those children who have been left most vulnerable by the pandemic, and where additional resources should be directed," she added.

The NIH also said that there were "racial, ethnic, and geographic disparities in COVID-19-associated death of caregivers."

Children belonging to racial and ethnic minorities made up 65 percent of those who lost a primary caregiver during the pandemic, according to the NIH.

One out of every 310 Black children, one out of every 412 Hispanic children and one out of every 612 Asian children experienced orphanhood or death of caregivers. Among white children, one out of every 753 had a COVID-19-related loss.