Children who get COVID-19 generally do not get sick from it. Of those who do, the vast majority of children experience a milder form of the illness than adults. Fatalities in the pediatric population are rare. This has provided reassurance to parents. However, it has perplexed researchers and healthcare providers who wonder why COVID is less severe these patients.
A study just released offers some insight into the possible reasons.
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York looked at the immune responses from sixty adults and 65 children and young adults under the age of 24 years. The study participants were hospitalized at a New York City medical center from mid-March to mid-May, 2020. The results revealed that children have a different immunological response to the new coronavirus than most adults do.
What the research team found has led them to believe that children have an innate immune response to this new coronavirus. Considered the body’s first line of defense, the innate immune response’s purpose is to quickly prevent the spread of pathogens. Because of this rapid response, the virus is destroyed before it has the chance to cause significant damage.
Why Children and Not Adults
Children have this type of response because they frequently have to respond to new pathogens. In contrast, adults have more of an adapted immune response that relies on previous exposure to the same or similar pathogens.
It takes an adult’s body longer to respond to something entirely new, like COVID-19. Essentially, an adult’s body takes time to figure out if this is a virus that their body has been exposed to before. By the time their body realizes this is a new pathogen, the virus has had plenty of time to wreak havoc in their systems.
Children in the study had higher levels of two immune molecules — interleukin 17A, and interferon gamma. As study participants got older, their levels decreased progressively. The study also included children who were afflicted with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which is believed to be an overreaction of the immune system to COVID-19.
Further research is needed to discover what happens in children after their initial rapid immune response. A vaccine provides hope for a return to normalcy, but there is also the opinion of some healthcare providers that by the time children develop the adapted immune response, it will be strong enough to protect them from the kind of problems many adults are currently experiencing.
It is essential to keep in mind that even though children don’t tend to get sick when they contract COVID-19, they can still transmit it to people who are at risk for a severe case of the virus. Parents will want to continue to exercise caution when their child is around at-risk individuals by having them wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
Why Is COVID Less Severe in Children — Sources
Science Translational Medicine – Immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection in hospitalized pediatric and adult patients
Helio – The Innate vs Adaptive Immune Response