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COVID-19 ISO Insights

Examining Children's Relative Immunity to Covid-19

March 7, 2022

By Travis Decaminada

Key Takeaway: Per numerous studies, children appear to be both more resistant to Covid-19, and less likely to spread the disease. New research suggests that both smaller lungs, and a still developing immune system may play a significant role in children’s health relative to the disease. However, Covid-19 still poses a real danger children, and this perceived immunity may cause parents to hold off on vaccinating their children.

 It’s no secret that children appear to fair better against Covid-19 than do adults, but why, exactly, are children so resilient? Per the Wall Street Journal, the answer is simple, younger people tend to have relatively stronger immune systems.

To be more specific, immune responses are categorized as either innate or adaptive. Innate responses reportedly include accumulations of mucus in the nose and throat, as well as special proteins that help a person’s overall immune system prepare to fend off an infection. Adaptive responses occur after an innate response, and generally involve the activation of special cells dedicated to fighting off invaders – adaptive responses are those that can be strengthened via vaccines. Reportedly, children have higher levels of proteins responsible for an innate immune response than do adults, which is what helps them fend of certain viruses with relative ease.

One study examining the issue found that “children were less reliant on the adaptive immune system than adults, likely because they had a stronger innate response.” The same study also found that “more genes involved in innate immunity were activated in the children”.

Further, while one may assume that the more coronaviruses a person’s immune system has fought off in the past confers an advantage against Covid-19, this is not always the case. In fact, per the Wall Street Journal, “While that might not seem like a good thing, in this case it confers an advantage: When children encounter SARS-CoV-2, they mobilize and attack the essential parts of the virus immediately.”

A related article from The Guardian also discusses the issue. Reportedly, children also produce significantly less aerosol when speaking, breathing, etc., which means that they have a comparatively lower risk of spreading the virus than do adults.

Finally, the article from the Wall Street Journal also speculates that children’s perceived imperviousness to disease may be partially responsible for relatively low vaccination rates among American youth. Reportedly, only around 40% of eligible children have been vaccinated within the country. The article notes that despite boasting a stronger immune system, children can and have been hospitalized as a result of Covid-19. The article concludes with a quote from a public health expert stating:

“The innate barrier is not 100% protective […] While that protection is robust […] Covid-19 still presents risks to children including the possibility of lingering symptoms. Without vaccination […] you’re taking a gamble.”

 See Also:

Information about families and Covid-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Guidance for Covid-19 prevention in k -12 schools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Provisional Covid-19 deaths: focus on ages 0 -18 years from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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