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Indirect effects of the covid-19 pandemic on childhood infection in England: population based observational study

BMJ 2022; 376 doi: (Published 12 January 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;376:e067519

Linked Editorial

Covid-19 control measures and common paediatric infections

Rapid Response:

What is there to learn from the reduction of childhood infections during the pandemic?

Dear Editor

The vast majority of children with infectious respiratory disease are managed in general practice. Many of these children will be prescribed antibiotics, usually amoxicillin, although this is known to be of doubtful benefit. (1) Most infections in children affect the respiratory system.

The free utility Openprescribing (2) can be used to show the total of prescriptions of any type dispensed in England over several years. Data cannot be linked to age of the patients. However, as a work-around I looked specifically at dispensed prescriptions for oral antibiotics in liquid form – almost all of which by are for children. This graph shows the weighted numbers of NHS prescriptions for amoxicillin in liquid forms dispensed, according to Health Authority, in England.

The usual winter peak in 2020-21 did not happen. Prescriptions that winter were about a quarter of the average for the previous four years. (Strangely, there were more amoxicillin prescriptions during the summer of 2021 than in previous summers.)

Combining this data with this current study suggests that fewer children contacted their GPs with infections, and fewer were admitted to hospital with severe respiratory infection in England during the first year and a half of the covid-19 pandemic.

Further study into the beneficial effects of the restrictions introduced to combat the pandemic is needed.

(1) Little, P. et al Lancet (2021) 398, 10309, 1417-1426
(2), EBM DataLab, University of Oxford, 2017

Competing interests: No competing interests

13 January 2022
Peter Selley
Retired GP
Crediton, Devon