How likely is long COVID for kids? Q&A with UC Davis pediatric infectious disease expert

News of new variants, vaccines and long-haul symptoms continue over two-year-long coronavirus pandemic. And so do questions regarding how COVID-19 will affect children now and in the future.

The Bee heard your questions about the virus and what it means for youngsters and gathered answers from professor and chief of pediatric infectious disease at UC Davis Health Dr. Dean Blumberg.

At what rate are children getting COVID-19?

Blumberg: ”[I]n the U.S., over the past week, more than 600,000 children were infected. So children are still getting COVID at a very high rate.”

Do we know what protects them from being infected at the rate adults are?

Blumberg: “We know that for 5-year-olds, if they’re five or older, then they’re eligible for vaccination. And we know that vaccination still provides excellent protection. People who are vaccinated are four times less likely to get infected, 15 times less likely to get hospitalized with COVID.”

My child is under 5 years and cannot get vaccinated. What can I do?

Blumberg: “Masking works well for them. And so the CDC just had a study last week that looked at adults who wore masks and found that cloth masks provided 50% protection against infection whereas the standard surgical — the rectangular surgical face masks — that provided about 70% protection.

The highest protection was the N95, but children less than 5, a lot of them aren’t comfortable wearing the N95s but certainly the standard surgical masks, children less than 5 can wear those comfortably.”

What is the vaccine timeline for younger kids under 5 years old?

Blumberg: “The FDA is going to evaluate the data from the vaccine manufacturer on Feb. 15 and then on Feb. 17, the CDC is going to also take a look at what the FDA looked at.

So we should have some more news on that next week. It’s possible that vaccine may be available for less than 5 within the next month or so.”

Are children in childcare facilities and schools infecting their families?

Blumberg: “So I don’t have actual numbers on that but what I can say is that most of the infections that occur in family, occur from adults bringing it into the household and then infecting children.

Several studies suggests that about 90% of household infections are from adults infecting children. Only about 10% are the other way around – the children infecting the adults.”

How might this pandemic affect the social development of youth? How can we combat it?

Blumberg: “We know that children have been isolated due to school and daycare closures and that’s led to problems with their physical as well as mental health.

That’s why it’s so important to make sure that schools and daycares are safe and that they are safe environments. We want them to remain open and to ensure that, I think that it’s important to have safety protocols in place, like masking so that outbreaks don’t occur.”

Does COVID affect the brains of children?

Blumberg: “Children in general, when they get COVID, they don’t get a severe disease as older children and adults, but we’ve certainly seen many children who’ve been hospitalized with COVID and that can take a toll on them.

Sometimes children can end up getting long COVID, which can interfere with the clarity of their thinking and their memory and that can affect them. And also, if they get long COVID, sometimes, they’ll need to miss school, which can also affect their neuro-development as well.

And then it’s rare side effects of getting COVID. Sometimes children can have actual infection and inflammation of their brains due to COVID and we’ve seen children admitted to the hospital for that. Although that’s rare, it can occur.”

What are the current rates of long covid in children under 18?

Blumberg: “Children appear to be getting long COVID and a little less than half the rate that adults are getting it. So somewhere between 20 and 30% of children may experience long COVID.

The good news is that vaccines do help prevent long COVID. Since they prevent COVID infection itself, they provide about 90% protection against getting long COVID.

... being vaccinated when having a breakthrough infection, they’re 50% less likely to get long COVID.”

What are the longterm effects of milder cases of COVID in children?

Blumberg: “Even getting asymptomatic infection may result in long COVID and so that’s why preventing all cases, even the asymptomatic cases, is important. I would encourage everybody to have their children vaccinated if they’re eligible and otherwise the next best protection is wearing masks.”

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