Children in classroom wearing protective masks 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 the latest 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. 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 a new variant — also called “strain” or “mutation” — of COVID-19. This strain was discovered in the United Kingdom (UK) and has gotten quite a bit of press coverage, especially since it has now been detected in the United States. While all viruses mutate (meaning, change their genetic material), this particular variant does appear to bind more tightly to the receptor that sits on the surface of cells. This may explain why it may be more contagious than other strains.

The good news? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that the new variant causes more severe illness or increases the risk of death. Scientists are working hard to learn more about this new variant (and others around the world). Preliminary research shows that the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines will provide protection against this new strain of virus. Most importantly, the same protective measures we use to prevent the original strains of COVID-19 will also protect against this variant virus.

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. Almost all children diagnosed with MIS-C have also tested positive for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, and hospitals across the country are seeing a rise in MIS-C cases following the post-holiday COVID-19 surge. 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, neither currently authorized COVID-19 vaccine is 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 older teens and adults. Hear more from Dr. Paul Offit, Director of the Vaccine Education Center.

The good news, however, is that trials studying COVID-19 vaccines in younger children have already begun, and scientists hope to have sufficient safety data to approve a vaccine for children before the 2021-2022 school year.

Keep in mind that both vaccines are already approved for older teens: the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine is approved for ages 16 and older, and the Moderna vaccine is approved for ages 18 and older. Vaccines will be available for teens 16 and older in the later phases of vaccine distribution.

To find out when your teenager 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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