Children under 12 who get Covid-19 often have mild illnesses or no symptoms. Pexels Artem Podrez
Children under 12 who get Covid-19 often have mild illnesses or no symptoms. Pexels Artem Podrez

WATCH: When can children get Covid-19 vaccine?

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Apr 8, 2021

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In the midst of the global Covid-19 pandemic, researchers have had to navigate the unknown and adapt health responses as quickly as possible.

When it comes to children and Covid-19, researchers are still trying to understand the many and varied effects of this virus.

Some researchers are of the opinion that the receptors (areas on the cells of the lung where the virus will attach) for minors are different in configuration and number and others speculate that children’s immune systems manage the virus better than that of adults.

While this may be shocking for many people, Professor Helena Rabie from Tygerberg Hospital believes Covid-19 is not the only virus that is managed differently by children. Other examples being the chickenpox virus and the hepatitis A virus, where childhood illnesses are known to be less severe in the majority of cases.

With the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine globally, questions have been raised as to whether children really need to get the Covid-19 vaccine? Writing for The Conversation, James Wood the assistant professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine says, the short answer is yes.

Many studies have shown that Covid-19 isn’t as severe in children, particularly younger kids – but that doesn’t mean kids aren’t at risk of getting infected and potentially spreading the virus.

Wood explains that children under 12 who get Covid-19 often have mild illnesses or no symptoms, while teenagers seem to have responses somewhere between what adults and younger kids have experienced.

During the early stages of the virus, Rabie noted that other children can present with features of respiratory illness and loose stools, they don't always have fever.

Parents may have noted the media reporting increase in the cases of a disease called KAWASAKI disease and also other fevers and rashes in children that scientists are now attributing to SARS-CoV2 infections. “We think these are reactions to asymptomatic viral infections in most of the children with these conditions. There are no viruses detected but they have antibodies to the virus in the blood, indicating a part infection,” said Rabie.

The UK Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also notes that teens were about twice as likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19 as children ages 5-11.

Should the kids require vaccination, many parents have an interest in how the Covid-19 vaccine works? Lee Callakoppen, Principal Officer of Bonitas Medical Fund says the Covid-19 vaccines produce protection against the disease by developing an immune response to the SARS-Cov-2 virus.

The vaccine stimulates an immune response to an antigen, a molecule found on the virus and provides a supply of ‘memory’ T- and B- lymphocytes that help fight that virus in the future.

There are four types of Covid vaccines and they are all trying to achieve the same things:

Immunity to the virus, reduction of symptoms if you are infected and being able to slow down or stop transmission. South Africa is currently using the Johnson &Johnson (J&J) single dose vaccine but, regardless of which vaccine you receive, you won’t reach full protection until around two weeks after the vaccination. Your immune system needs this time to develop the antibody response.

But there might be a wait on kids vaccination because of an ongoing trial to understand the virus and the vaccination on children. Right now, Wood explains that the Pfizer vaccine is the only one in the US authorised for teenagers as young as 16. Before kids under 16 can be vaccinated, clinical trials need to be completed in thousands of young volunteers to assess the vaccines’ safety and efficacy, and the results must be fully reviewed and then authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

Pfizer said it expects to submit results from its adolescent trials for review soon. Vaccine manufacturer Moderna also has trials under way with adolescents. If their vaccines are shown to be safe and effective and regulators authorize them, kids 12 and up could be vaccinated before school starts in the fall.

Realistically, young children probably won’t be eligible for the vaccine until late later this year or early next year said Wood. Moderna announced in mid-March that it had started testing its vaccine in children ages 6 months to 11 years. Pfizer said it is also starting testing in young children, but these trials take time.

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