Children in classroom wearing protective masks (Updated May 10, 2021)

There’s a lot of information out there about COVID-19 and the risks it poses to your family. Scientists and public health officials are actively studying SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and learning more every day. New information, however, can often raise new questions, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. We’ve triaged recent updates on COVID-19 and kids to help you keep your family safe.

Are children less susceptible to COVID-19?

We still do not know the true number of children at any given time who are infected with COVID-19, in part because children are more likely than adults to have asymptomatic infections. Recent evidence, however, does so far suggest that children under age 5 are less susceptible to infection.

Here’s why: in order to enter a person’s cells, a virus must attach itself to a receptor on the surface of the cell. Because a child’s cells have less ACE2 — the receptor that gets infected with the virus — COVID-19 is less capable of attaching to the cells that line a child’s upper respiratory tract. Children under age 5 have very little of this receptor on the surface of their cells, but they develop more as they get older.

Keep in mind that young children can still get COVID-19, and we still don’t understand why one child might become infected and not another, or why some children experience severe infection.

It’s also important to note that teenagers act more like adults in terms of their ability to transmit the virus. That’s in part because they have more ACE2 receptors on their cells. However, children of all ages contribute to disease transmission, and everyone is at risk of becoming ill and of spreading the virus. For this reason, it is critical that your family continue to follow these safety measures:

  • Wear a mask when outside of your home.
  • Maintain physical distancing (6 feet away) from people outside of your immediate household members, and avoid crowds.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer.

New variants: Are they really more contagious?

You have likely heard about multiple new variants of the COVID virus — also called “strains” or “mutations” — that have been discovered around the globe. While all viruses mutate (meaning, change their genetic material), these variants do appear to bind more tightly to the receptor that sits on the surface of cells. This may explain why they may be more contagious than other strains.

Thankfully, these variants do not seem to cause more severe illness than our original COVID strains.

More good news: According to the CDC, preliminary research shows the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines will provide protection against these new strains of virus. Most importantly, the same protective measures we use to prevent the spread of the original strains of COVID-19 will also protect against these variant viruses. 

That means the best way to protect yourself and your family against all strains of COVID-19 is to follow the safety measures above. Get more tips on how to keep your family safe.

My child had COVID-19; are they going to develop MIS-C?

Most children with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and need no advanced medical care. In a very small number of children, however, the virus seems to set off an excessive immune response, resulting in inflammation of the eyes, skin and some internal organs.

This condition is called multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), and it can be very serious, affecting a child’s blood pressure and heart function. Hospitals across the country have seen a rise in MIS-C cases. If your child develops any MIS-C symptoms, especially a high fever that lasts several days, call your pediatrician or take your child to the Emergency Department. MIS-C requires hospitalization, and most children recover quickly with treatment.

Read more about MIS-C.

When can my child be vaccinated against COVID-19?

Unfortunately, the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines are not yet approved for use in young children. That’s because physicians and scientists can’t assume that young children will respond the same way to the vaccine as teens and adults. Hear more from Dr. Paul Offit, Director of the Vaccine Education Center.

The good news, however, is that vaccine trials are now beginning in younger children, and scientists hope to have sufficient safety data to approve a vaccine for young children before the 2021-2022 school year.

Keep in mind that all COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. are already approved for use in older teens: the Moderna vaccine is approved for ages 18 and older, and approval of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine was recently extended for use in people ages 12 and older.

To find out when your teen may be able to receive the vaccine, speak to your pediatrician and keep an eye on your local health department’s website.

For more detailed information about the COVID-19 vaccine, including recommendations for pregnant or nursing moms, visit CHOP’s Vaccine Education Center.

Reviewed by Susan E. Coffin, MD, MPH, Division of Infectious Diseases

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