Published on in Health Tip of the Week
You may have heard some parents talk about the possibility of having a “COVID-19 party” to intentionally expose their child to the novel coronavirus. There is historical precedent for such events — but that was before doctors better understood diseases, like chickenpox, rubella and even smallpox, and before vaccines existed to prevent children from getting the diseases in the first place.
Despite more than 153,000 deaths (and counting) in the United States over the span of only a few months, current data suggest that the great majority of people infected with COVID-19 do not get severely ill. Children, generally, have fallen into the less severely ill category. This suggests most people would "get away with" intentional exposure without experiencing severe consequences. However, this way of thinking discounts some important risk-related considerations — both for the person being exposed and, importantly, those around them.
Intentionally exposing people to any virus is not a good idea — especially with COVID-19, which is so new that doctors and researchers have just scratched the surface in learning about it. Here’s why you should resist the temptation to intentionally expose your children to COVID-19.
Duration of immunity
No one yet knows for sure if being infected with COVID-19 means that you are protected against reinfection and, if you are, for how long. Exposing your child to COVID-19 might not make them safer at all.
Long-term consequences of infection
At the outset of the pandemic, few children were hospitalized, suggesting children were, for the most part, spared from the worst effects of the virus. Then, reports started to appear about multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) associated with COVID-19 infection. Growing evidence suggests MIS-C can occur in children who showed no symptoms before they became seriously ill.
Children with MIS-C may show increased cardiac-related symptoms and macrophage activation syndrome (severe complication of rheumatic disease), as well as varying effects on several other organ systems. In a cluster of children in the United Kingdom, seven of eight children required mechanical ventilation support and one child died.
For adults, the long-term or delayed-onset effects following infection remain uncertain, but pulmonary, neurologic and cardiovascular damage (including stroke) have been reported.
What’s scary is there is no way to predict who may have life-threatening complications, either when they are initially sick or sometime afterward.
Intentional exposure has serious implications for the community. While it is still unclear whether people with asymptomatic infections can spread the virus, it has been confirmed that people can spread the virus about two days before symptoms appear. Although someone choosing to deliberately expose themselves or their child could presumably self-quarantine for 14 days to prevent transmitting to others, this would require a strict adherence to self-quarantine measures by everyone living in the home. Given that up to 40% of people who have COVID-19 show no symptoms, it is no surprise that those family members may decide to go to work or run errands.
That means a family member — even one with mild illness — could easily transmit COVID-19 to others, who then become severely ill and, in some cases, die. This is a reminder that people aren't just making a choice for themselves but also for those with whom they come in contact. This is of particular concern for family members with high-risk conditions or who are older.
Limited healthcare resources
Across the country, as businesses have reopened and the number of cases climb, hospital and other healthcare resources are again being stretched thin. The nationwide lockdown largely prevented healthcare overload in the spring, but a surge could fill up hospital beds and intensive care units, leaving the sickest people with nowhere to be treated.
Another consideration is that, although progress has been made regarding treatments for those who become severely ill, healthcare providers are still learning what works and research is ongoing.
Desire to return to normalcy — in our lives and for the economy
We all agree that it has been a difficult time, so wanting to return to pre-COVID-19 life is understandable. So much about the pandemic is stressful and inconvenient at best, and for those who have lost a job, there is much hardship.
Repairing our economy and saving lives is not a mutually exclusive choice.
As communities reopen, it’s critical to practice physical/social distancing to limit exposure to those who may have COVID-19 whether they realize it or not, and to quarantine when sick to decrease spread of the virus. This will allow communities to open while still making sure healthcare resources are not overwhelmed and our family and friends do not pay the price.
It also gives scientists and clinicians the time they need to learn more about treatments and develop a vaccine that will keep our kids — and their grandparents — safe in the future.
So if you hear of a COVID-19 party, stay clear. The risk is too great for an unproven reward.
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Contributed by: Charlotte A. Moser, BS
Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.
You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.