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  • At least 6.6 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.
  • This number continues to rise as there are a little over 100,000 pediatric cases each week.
  • A new study finds that when children get COVID-19 they do not make as many types of antibodies as adults. So they have less robust protection against COVID-19 in the future.

COVID-19 continues to have a strong presence in the United States, affecting both adults and children nearly 2 years into the pandemic.

But now just over 58 percent of Americans are now vaccinated and this month, children ages 5 to 11 became eligible to get vaccinated.

While many parents have already started to get their children vaccinated, some remain hesitant. One reason some parents may be hesitant is that they believe if their child already had COVID-19, they may not need a vaccine. However, early evidence shows that re-infection in unvaccinated children is possible and potentially more likely than for adults.

Kids may be more likely to have re-infections of COVID-19

New data confirms that people who have already had COVID-19 still need the vaccine, especially for young people and children.

When an adult gets COVID-19, they tend to make multiple types of antibodies against the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2. However, research shows that when children get COVID-19 they do not make as many types of antibodies, so they have less robust protection.

A study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh suggests that young people do not have a good antibody memory after an initial infection. The study is a preprint so has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Senior author, John Alcorn Ph.D., professor of pediatric immunology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said in a press release, “Some people, particularly young people, do not respond particularly well in terms of immune memory to prior infection. These people may not be well protected from a second infection.”

“We know that antibodies last for several months, but they don’t last forever, which is why a booster shot has been recommended for some groups,” said Dr. Ritu Banerjee, medical director of the Pediatric Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“However, even people who have decreasing amounts of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies remain protected against severe COVID-19 disease and hospitalization. Exactly how long this protection lasts is unclear at this time and the subject of much research,” Banerjee said.

Dr. Danielle Zerr, division chief of pediatric infectious disease at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says that after infection, children are likely only protected for only a few months.

“The immune response after vaccination is more predictable,” said Zerr. “It has been shown that vaccination of people who have had past COVID-19 is safe and boosts their immune response to the coronavirus. This means that people who have had past infection and are vaccinated are less likely to experience re-infection than people who had past infection and are not vaccinated.”

Children impacted by COVID-19

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 6.6 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. This number continues to rise as there are a little over 100,000 pediatric cases each week.

Within the first week of eligibility for younger children to get vaccinated, about 900,000 children between the ages of 5 to 11 will have already received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Banerjee strongly recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for children — even if they have already experienced an infection from the virus.

“Antibody levels wane over time, even after natural infection. Vaccination after having COVID-19 is the best way to strengthen the immune system and provide optimal protection for the child.”

Additional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that unvaccinated individuals who had a recent infection were over 5 times more likely to get COVID-19 in comparison to people who were recently vaccinated and didn’t have a prior infection.

Banerjee points out that even if children have mild symptoms, they can transmit the virus to others at higher risk.

“Remember also that by vaccinating a child, you are protecting that child and also the household, since we know children can efficiently transmit the virus to other family members, and the community,” said Banerjee.

Vaccination not only reduces the chance of a person developing COVID-19, but it is also highly protective against severe illness, as well as hospitalization and death.

“Beyond protecting the vaccinated person, vaccination protects others and contributes to achieving lower transmission rates and new daily case rates, which ultimately is what we need to see happen to return to a more normal way of life,” said Zerr.


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