COVID-19 and Children: What do we know so far

Dilli Gautam

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was believed that children are just carriers of the coronavirus because only fewer cases of the COVID-19 infections were reported among children compared to adults. 

In addition, if children were infected, they would have only mild symptoms, and with their strong immune system, they won’t get severely ill with the virus. In a congressional hearing on July 31, 2020, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases mentioned that children are not immune to getting the virus, and if they get infected, they have lower hospitalization because of their infection being less severe than the older population. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that taking ages 18-29 years old as a baseline, ages 0-4 years old have four times lower hospitalization rate and nine times lower death rate. Similarly, ages 15-17 years old have nine times lower hospitalization rates and sixteen times lower death rate. If compared, the hospitalization among ages 75-84 years old is eight times higher and 220 times higher death rate.

Does this mean that there should not be any worry about children getting COVID-19? Despite the above promising data, 231 children between the ages of 0-17 have died from COVID-19 infection as of January 13th, as reported on the CDC website. 

Children with underlying illnesses such as asthma or chronic lung disease, diabetes, genetic, neurologic, or metabolic conditions, heart disease since birth, and immunosuppression have a higher chance of severe illness and can die. 

The data of hospitalization and death among children and the projections by different epidemiological models presents less immediate impact among children/youth, but the question of longitudinal health issues are still unknown. The question of how the children infected with COVID-19 grow physically, mentally, emotionally, or intellectually over time is unanswered. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is new, and there has not been any study conducted on the long-term impact of the virus among children and youths. However, a recent study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a branch of the National Institute of Health, suggested that pandemic related stress cannot be observed immediately and will only be detected throughout child development. 

Similarly, in a Webinar hosted by the Alliance for Health in partnership with the Children’s Hospital Association, the doctors and healthcare advocates highlighted a higher possibility of negative impact on children’s behavioral health due to the COVID-19 infection. Lack of enough evidence regarding inverse health outcomes due to COVID-19 among children post-pandemic does not necessarily mean that children won’t have any health issues throughout their developmental period.

Yet, we should not undermine the impacts of this deadly virus even on children. It should alarm us that children are not completely free from the chances of contracting COVID-19.  

In addition to protecting children from COVID-19, there have been many discussions on COVID-19 and its impact on pregnancy. An article published by the Harvard Medical school mentioned that the risk of severe COVID-19 illness and death among pregnant individuals is low. However, it is higher when compared to nonpregnant individuals from the same age group. 

The article also states that having COVID-19 might increase premature birth risks, particularly for pregnant women with severe illness. In contrast to the study by the Harvard Medical School, the CDC suggests that pregnant women with COVID-19 might be at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth, compared with pregnant women without COVID-19.

 If you are expecting and worried about the inverse impact that could cause your unborn children, you shouldn’t just get it without consulting your doctor. However, if you are considering, you should accept the vaccine as soon as it is available to you as the COVID-19 vaccine is not believed to affect future fertility. The COVID-19 vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer did not include pregnant women in their trials limiting the safety of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy. Since the vaccines were developed through mRNA, experts are optimistic that it is most likely safe for breastfeeding even though breastfeeding women were not included in the trials.

The author is a public health professional who currently resides in Grand Rapids, MI. He works as an Early Intervention Specialist at the Grand Rapids Red Project and he is also the president of the Bhutanese Community of Michigan. He has also done research in mental health among teens and adolescence and healthcare leadership.