Regina Castro and Ana Flávia Pilar (CCS/Fiocruz)
The implications of the fact that the pandemic is hitting younger people in Brazil are the subject of the paper Younger Brazilians hit by COVID-19 – What are the implications?, by researchers of the Fiocruz COVID-19 Observatory, published in a magazine of The Lancet group on July 14th. Following the observation that COVID-19 cases in younger age groups (adults between 20 and 59 years of age) that evolved into severe conditions and resulted in deaths have become more frequent, the study highlights that this age group may be highly affected by the so-called long COVID or post-COVID syndromes.
As the health system is overloaded in many cities, one of the immediate implications, according to the paper, is the increasing hospitalization time due to COVID-19. In addition, researchers warn that the disease among young adults may chronically compromise their quality of life and their capacity for everyday activities, including work. They emphasize that this scenario may create a dramatic long-term social impact.
The study shows that early in 2021 incidence and mortality rates by COVID-19 rose rapidly and significantly in Brazil. Up to the first week of June, the country counted almost 17 million cases and a little over 472 thousand deaths. This change in demographics was observed in that period, when young adults and adults represented an increasingly high part of patients hospitalized in hospital wards and in intensive care units (ICUs). Fiocruz COVID-19 Observatory has been following this process, which has become known as “pandemic rejuvenation” in Brazil, since January.
Scientists highlight three main factors that have contributed to the change in the dynamics of the pandemic. First and foremost, the arrival and then increased circulation of new variants of concern (VOC). Secondly, the irregular offer of the government’s emergency aid, or relief package, for poorer populations has led to a loosing of the social distancing measures, once, more people need to leave their homes to work and obtain some level of income to survive. Finally, COVID-19 vaccination was initiated in Brazil immediately after National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA in the Portuguese acronym) approved the first vaccine, on January 17th this year, and has been covering priority groups in a different way — health workers, people over 60 in elderly homes or with special needs, indigenous populations in their original locations, and the elderly population.
One of the challenges highlighted in the article is the need to analyze impacts according to race/ethnicity, gender, and social class, and to evaluate different conditions of vulnerability and inequality. “The message is clear. We need to keep an eye on young adults, especially those more vulnerable, engaging with them as urgently as possible. The vaccination schedule is still advancing timidly among groups of younger people, and non-pharmacological public health measures are still essential. This recommendation must be made responsibly, ensuring the welfare provided by the government necessary so people can remain home without jeopardizing the minimum conditions of subsistence, now and in the future, of these populations”, they state.
The paper is signed by researchers Raphael Mendonça Guimarães, DSc PhD; Margareth Crisóstomo Portela, PhD; Daniel Antunes Maciel Villela, PhD; Gustavo Correa Matta, DSc; and Carlos Machado de Freitas, DSc, all from Fiocruz.